Jordan Peele's blistering Get Out is a scary, funny and razor sharp social thriller, and the most exciting debut film this year
“Run rabbit – run rabbit – Run! Run! Run!” In the first few minutes of Jordan Peele’s heart-pounding horror film Get Out we hear this familiar ditty blaring out of a car radio in an affluent and eerily quiet suburb. Those last three syllables will be running around in your head for the rest of the picture as you watch Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a quiet but self-assured young black photographer, take a weekend trip out of the city with his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) to meet her parents for the first time.
But why should Chris run? Rose’s folks – her neurosurgeon father, Dean (Bradley Whitford) and psychiatrist mother, Missy (Catherine Keener) – are lovely liberals; warm and welcoming. They’d have voted for Obama for a third term if they could. They tell him so. Is Chris just being sensitive when he winces when they bring up the former President, or Jesse Owens (Dean’s paw missed out on an Olympics spot to the legendary sprinter), or Tiger Woods? And is it just us, or did Dean put a strange emphasis on the word “black” when he casually mentions the black rot that puts the basement off limits?
Peele’s drum-tight script and widescreen framing keep us on edge and off kilter. We’re never quite sure if Chris is being paranoid, or if there really is something more to the passive-aggressive menace that comes off his possible future in-laws in waves. Chris’s excitable best friend Rod, a TSA-agent who’s dog-sitting for Chris while he’s away, is under no illusions. Whenever his bud checks in by phone to tell him how strange his weekend is going, Rod’s (hilarious) answer is always the same: Run! Run! Run!
Get Out’s direction is staggeringly assured. This is Peele’s debut, but the 38-year-old has had years of experience behind the camera as co-creator of sketch show Key & Peele. Working in that compact form has clearly given him a great sense of where to place the camera, as well as how to mine both a laugh and a scare from the same scene. His economical style is paired with moments of surreal beauty, particularly in his poetic visualisation – perhaps in homage to Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin – of a hypnosis session in which Missy kindly offers Chris some free therapy to cure his nasty smoking habit.
Peele’s work with his cast is top notch too. The constant weary smile Kaluuya wears suggests a lifetime humouring white folks – the well-meaning, and the less so – while they put their foot in it. Keener, meanwhile, forever the warmest actor in American indie cinema, brings some of that superciliousness she showed in Being John Malkovich. Less nuanced is Caleb Landry Jones, who turns up later as Rose’s little brother, but his 'mad as a box of frogs' craziness – Jones’ only mode, really – is a blessed relief: at least we know where he stands on Chris dating his sister.
Best in show, however, is Betty Gabriel as Georgina, the family’s live-in black maid. She owns the film’s knockout scene, in a moment where Chris confesses to her that he gets nervous around too many white people. Georgina’s freaked-out response to his innocent admission is to slowly approach Chris with a huge, grimacing smile on her face and tears streaming down her cheek, while quietly saying “no, no, no.”
A horror need only be frightening to warrant recommendation, and Get Out is certainly that, from its jaw-dropping opening scene to its Grand Guignol finale. But what makes this a great film is its bubbling political fury. Yes, Get Out is a witty comedy thriller filled with killer lines and homicidal liberals, but when it comes to satirising the latent – and some might argue blatant – racism at play in modern America, Peele is deadly serious.
Released by Universal