Screaming at the screen is encouraged

Photo courtesy of Terrorama on Flickr; Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) finds himself in a “paralyzing” situation at his white girlfriend’s family’s estate in Jordan Peele’s “Get Out.”

Get Out

***½/****

By Jason Wiese

Any fan of Comedy Central’s popular sketch show Key & Peele knows that creators and stars Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are huge movie buffs, especially Peele who is quoted as crediting horror as his favorite genre. One aspect of their show that I always admired was whenever a sketch would incorporate elements of horror, it would not back down from its genuinely unnerving tone even when the setup had reached its punchline.

I recall one sketch in particular in which Peele plays a 10 year-old cancer patient visited by a representative from the Make-A-Wish foundation who requests increasingly disturbing acts, including drowning a man in a bath tub, as his wish for them to grant. The claustrophobic cinematography, nerve-pinching score and Peele’s devilish performance made the sketch one of the most satisfyingly disturbing four minutes of my life. It convinced me that someone as passionate about the genre as Peele would have to chops to make a kick-ass horror film. As it turns out, I was right.

Peele’s aptly titled directorial debut Get Out, which he also wrote, is about Chris Washington (British actor Daniel Kaluuya, who starred in a memorable episode of the first season of Black Mirror), a young, successful photographer planning a trip to visit the family of his girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams). Before he is even done packing, he is immediately concerned with the revelation that Rose’s parents (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) do not know that he is black. Rose assures him that she has very accepting liberal parents, even joking that her father will mention to him that he would have voted for Obama for a third term if he could. Her assurance proves true (even the Obama joke), yet he is bothered to discover that they have hired two black live-in servants and is even more disturbed by the servants’ unusual behavior. As the weekend draws on, Chris is uncomfortable by the Armitages’ increasingly odd treatment of him, but soon grows paranoid that there may be something sinister at play.

As one might expect from the mind of Peele, the subject of race plays a deep theme in the film. In the film’s subtler moments, the script sees Chris experience typical moments a singled-out black person would go through, such as being asked about the modern day black American lifestyle at a party. But in the absence of subtlety, the film takes the roots of those uncomfortable moments to fuel the film’s shock factor. Like how The Stepford Wives is a commentary on gender stereotypes or how Rosemary’s Baby comments on reproductive rights, Get Out is the product of Peele using the horror genre to call out modern day racism in a biting satirical fashion.

One of the most impressive aspects of the film is that Peele knows exactly the kind of audience the film is for. Not necessarily by demographic, but by reaction. If you have ever seen a horror film with an audience that collectively speaks out loud to the screen and were bothered by the distractions it caused, that will not be a problem with this film. In fact, I highly encourage group viewings because with the methods the film is constructed, including the scene-stealing Lil Rel Howery as Chris’ friend Rod Williams representing those definitive reactions, it heightens the experience. It is literally what Peele has been quoted as making this film for, a brilliant move on his part.

Despite what the trailer may have suggested, Get Out is not a particularly frightful film. In fact, calling it a horror film is a bit of a stretch, but as a thriller, it is the best I have seen this year so far. It is a suspenseful, complex, perfectly acted, uniquely executed and often hilarious film that satisfies the thrill seeker and penetrates the area of the soul where a craving for social justice lives. Who knew the other half of Key & Peele could potentially become one of the best filmmakers of his generation?

Published to Newstime and The Lincoln County Journal Friday, Feb. 24, 2017