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GET OUT (2017) review

February 24, 2017

 

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written by: Jordon Peele
produced by: Jason Blum, Edward H. Hamm Jr and Sean McKittrick
directed by: Jordon Peele
rating: R (for violence, bloody images, and language including sexual references) 
runtime: 103 min.
U.S. release date: February 24, 2017

 

Despite some progress, people haven’t really changed much in fifty years when it comes to race relations. If you disagree with that then you’re not aware what’s been going on in the States in recent years. Why do I mention fifty years? That’s how long it’s been since Stanley Kramer’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and that’s the movie that comes to mind when unpacking the shocking “Get Out” an unforgettable genre mashup. That’s because writer/director Jordan Peele’s white-parents-meet-their-daughter’s-black-boyfriend-for-the-first-time premise resembles that influencial 1967 classic, yet with a dose of “Twilight Zone” that holds a mirror up to where we’re at now when it comes to the acceptance of interracial couples in clever, humorous and unsettling, albeit truthful, ways. 

Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) and Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya in a star-making turn) have been seeing each other for five months now and they’re now at the point where Rose feels it’s time for him to meet her family. This makes Chris a little apprehensive, especially when he learns that Rose hasn’t told her parents that her boyfriend is black and tries to reassure Chris that her father would’ve voted Obama for another four years if he could’ve. Despite serious reservations from his TSA Agent buddy Rod (a hilarious spot-on Lil Rel Howery), Chris takes off with Rose for the weekend, leaving behind their Bronx neighborhood as they make their way to white suburbia.

On the way there, the couple’s vehicle hits and kills a deer. (It’s a scene that’s reminiscent of another interracial couple on a road trip from last year’s “The Invitation”). Is it a random accident that could’ve happened to anyone or a mysterious foreboding of what lies ahead?  It definitely plays on our own anticipation that something is going to happen to these two – or maybe just Chris. Something, but what?

 

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As it turns out, Rose’s parents are enthusiastically warm and friendly (maybe too friendly), as they welcome Chris. Her neurosurgeon father, Dean (Bradley Whitford) and hypnotherapist mother, Missy (Catherine Keener) go out of their way to make Chris feel at ease, yet in doing so creates unease.  Although Chris is our gateway character, we know a little more than he does, because we have a certain expectation for thrillers, but it’s just a matter of when things will turn and how south. It’s already an awkward and nervous experience meeting the girlfriend’s family, but Rose’s parents – along with her odd brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones, typically bizarre and overblown) –  but Chris can’t help being extra cautious. We get the feeling he’s used to white people behaving oddly around him, but this is something different and he knows it.

In an effort to reassure his girlfriend, Chris tries to get comfortable, but can’t help notice certain odd elements. While guiding Chris through a tour of the house, Dean mentions how they don’t go downstairs much anymore because of black mold and moves on. Most curious though is the fact that the only black people Chris runs into are employed by the Armitage family (knowing how this looks, Dean quickly explains that they used to work for Rose’s grandparents), there’s Walter (Marcus Henderson) a robotic groundskeeper and Georgina (an excellent Betty Gabriel), the wide-eyed housekeeper, both of whom behave oddly and watch Chris and Rose closely, especially Chris.

It just so happens that Chris and Rose’s visit coincides with the annual neighborhood party the Armitages throw together. This is where things get stranger. Chris meets the neighbors, who are predominately white and middle-aged and can’t seem to take their eyes off Chris, admiring his physique (one woman feels up his arms) and attempting to talk basketball with him. Chris is starting to have enough of it when he spots an African-American male he hasn’t yet met. Relieved, he approaches the lanky timid Andrew (Lakeith Stanfield “Short Term 12”), who’s there with a white sixty something woman, hoping to connect with something he can relate to, but this is where things take a surreal nosedive that sets the bizarre and unsettling tone for the rest of the movie.

 

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It would be best if I didn’t say much more about Peele’s storyline. I’ll just add that things get more intense and weird and best of all, quite unpredictable. Peele excels at combining consistent humor and horrifying developments that draw viewers in, delivering jolting moments that shock and entertain as much as it holds a warped mirror to behavior we’re unfortunately already quite familiar with. “Get Out” becomes a nerve-wracking experience as Chris gets pulled into Missy’s hypnotic powers (which resembles “Under the Skin”) and his buddy Rod is left to worry from afar as he suspicions are confirmed when Chris doesn’t reply to his texts or calls.

Jordan Peele is primarily known for his funny business with his “Key & Peele” cohort Keegan-Michael Key, but this movie shows the writer/director has a confident and decisive hand at filmmaking, while maintaining a clever humor amid a most unique story. There’s a bit of a Hitchcockian touch to Peele’s approach here as he builds and twists his storyline with help from cinematographer Toby Oliver, including a nod to the flash camera Jimmy Stewart used in “Vertigo”, since Chris has a talent for photography. What is most apparent though is Peele’s delight in introducing himself as a writer/director who revels in balancing broad comedy with chilling shocks as he touches on some real-life, hot-bottom topics. Clearly, this is a film that benefits (sadly) from the state of racial tension in America today.

Thankfully, nothing is ever heavy-handed about “Get Out”, although it could’ve easily come across that way. Audiences will either be enlightened or reminded of the black experience, while at the same time feeling a bit uneasy in their seats, regardless of their skin color. Through the point-of-view of the protagonist, the audience is reminded that a black man can feel mindful and weary of his surroundings wherever he goes. Peele gradually cranks up the anxiety and fear the more we (and Chris) learn what is truly going on and concludes his picture with a turn of events that upend the conventions that are usually included when a black man is involved in a horror flick.

 

 

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What is Peele saying about whites and blacks? Well, let’s not get too analytical about it all. Despite being quite a conversation stirrer, his sharp and insightful screenplay is servicing a movie that is out to entertain as much as its determined to elicit a knee-jerk reaction from viewers. Still, the movie has quite a fascinating take on white people. When motivations and behavior is explained, the “Twilight Zone” or “Tales from the Darkside” becomes even more apparent as we learn exactly why whites are so enamored with blacks in “Get Out”. Peele would rather we catch on to all the elbow-nudging nuances he includes, like how Chris uses cotton to get out of a seemingly impossible situation and so much more, all of which warrants repeat viewings.

Good genre filmmaking, especially horror or science fiction, will often say a few things about where humanity is at, focusing on certain behaviors or decisions that have surfaced and have either been accepted or become something that is vehemently opposed. “Get Out” gauges the racial dynamic (or divide, if you will) and shows that things are decidedly worse than they were during the Civil Rights movement. We’re better at deflecting or ignoring the elephant in the room, or at least we want to think we are.

“Get Out” holds zero pretense as it peels back layers, exposing the prejudices and privileges of white people and the understandable apprehension and paranoia that black people have around them. There are inarguable sharp truths here and although there are laugh-out-loud scenes coupled with talk-to-the-screen moments, it’s hard not to argue with the apparent reality found in the mysterious and disturbing settings and developments that occur. With such a terrific eye for filmmaking on display, I eagerly await what Peele will deliver next.

I can’t get this movie out of my head (nor do I want to) and I can’t stop talking it up with others. It’s that great, but what’s greater is that I can feel that way about a movie that’s not a brand (sequel, prequel, remake, reboot or franchise tie-in), but rather a bold, confident and unique look at issues we already know, fear and unfortunately have few solutions for.

 

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RATING: ***1/2

 

 

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