Many fans of Jordan Peele and his long history of sketch comedy work were likely surprised, maybe even disappointed, by the announcement that his first go at feature film directing would yield a horror-thriller picture. After all, following Peele through five seasons of MadTV, and five more of his and Keegan-Michael Key’s eponymous Comedy Central brainchild has led us to expect certain things from any project that springs from the multi-hyphenate’s mind. What one can expect in Peele's case is scathing wit, zany augmented realities, and something to say about contemporary race relations. Rest assured: though Get Out, which premiered early Tuesday morning as the Sundance Film Festival's secret midnight screening, may be a shift in tone for the longtime funnyman, Peele's debut movie packs more than a few of his usual calling cards.
In fact, the subject of racism—one that Peele has tackled time and again—is front and center in Get Out, serving as a central theme and driving force of the story. Peele spares no expense in contextualizing his film within the ubiquity of modern American bigotry. He imbues protagonist Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) with concern over everything from interactions with police officers to his forthcoming first union with his white girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) parents. Worries aside, Chris does agree to accompany Rose to her family’s estate for a meet-and-greet weekend, over which the ostensibly amicable Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener) slowly but surely betray their true colors.
Even the pessimistic Chris can’t dream up the horror story that unfolds once he’s settled into suburban living, nor could many the mortal thinker. But from within the mind of Peele springs an increasingly strange and fantastical execution of an epidemic that, even in its wildest moments, the movie never lets you forget is all too real. Along the way, we're treated to lighter moments, most notably in the family's collective of WASPy friends and neighbors, a veritable treasure-trove of comic self-unawareness. It does warrant mention that the absolute funniest element to the movie is also the most in step with the Key and Peele comic sensibility: Chris' best friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery), a proud TSA agent who agrees to watch over his pal's dog while he's away with Rose, and who grows suspicious over sporadic reports back from the unsettling scene.
And then there are the darker constructs. You'll be hard up to escape the thick tension delivered through both Peele's dynamic world-building and star Kaluuya's quivering eyes as the plot twists and turns into psychological guerrilla warfare. By and large, all these narrative punches make effective contact, proving that Peele's talent is hardly limited to snappy gags.
While Peele's comedic prowess is a delight and his gift for generating thrills is a winning surprise, nothing about Get Out is more impressive than how cleverly he manages to weave a story around his active themes. Though Peele's grip may seem to loosen a bit as the plot grows increasingly extreme, he maintains a remarkable handle on the extended metaphor at the center of the piece. The patience and imagination with which Peele approaches the manufacturing of a yet unseen story around the subject of anti-black bigotry is not only a feat of creativity, but of humanity. I won't be surprised if Get Out helps to spell out a few important lessons for those who deign to give it a watch. The best part: Any who do will have a hell of a fun and frightful time learning.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Images: Universal Pictures
Michael Arbeiter is the East Coast Editor of Nerdist. Find him on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter.