Genre films have always been great vessels for social commentary. The pleasures of genre conventions allow such messaging to go down easy; the spoonful of cinematic sugar that helps the medicine go down. Actor/comedian Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, “Get Out,” is an expert example of the way this works, though it’s far more than just a trenchant cultural critique wrapped in an appealing package. In this horror film, the horror is us, our history, our own troubled relationship with race. It’s bold, provocative, funny, and an overdue tonic for a society and media saturated with archaic norms and images.
“Get Out” riffs on “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” as Rose (Allison Williams) brings her new boyfriend, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), home to her lily-white, upper-crust community. While her neurosurgeon father (Bradley Whitford) and hypnotist/psychiatrist mother (Catherine Keener) welcome him with open arms, Chris can’t help but notice that the other black people he encounters there just aren’t acting quite right, and frankly, the white people seem a little too interested in him (and his physical qualities).
Using horror stereotypes and genre expectations, Peele transforms the black guy from predator to prey, from First Victim to Final Girl. Whiteness is no longer the norm, but creeping terror and evil. It’s satire, but it’s also uncomfortably real.
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Aesthetically, Peele demonstrates a deep knowledge of the horror canon and its stylistic techniques. The camera creeps and glides around the palatial house; strings shriek and moan on the soundtrack to great effect. Scares come not from extreme violence or gore but from a pervasive sense of dread and unease that something isn’t quite right with the people here.
The soundtrack and score are exceptional, mixing hair-raising music cues with classical horror composition that seamlessly integrates with the sound design, which plays an important part of the narrative. The film derives its dread from a fear of white people — that they will scheme, plan, kidnap and exploit black bodies for their own consumption, pleasure and strength. “Get Out” is social satire, not propaganda, but Peele forces the audience to confront uncomfortable truths here. That gutsy commentary goes down smoothly with the help of his assured and confident direction.
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root, Lakeith Stanfield and Catherine Keener.
Writer-director: Jordan Peele.
A Universal Pictures release. Running time: 103 minutes. Vulgar language, bloody violence, sexual references. Playing at area theaters.