'Get Out' Mixes Satire, Race And Horror, And The Result Is A Scream

Feb 24, 2017
Originally published on March 7, 2017 1:38 pm
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DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Jordan Peele, who's best known for his collaboration with Keegan-Michael Key on the comedy sketch show "Key & Peele," has written and directed his first feature film. It's a comic thriller called "Get Out" in which a young, white woman brings her black boyfriend home to meet the parents. Film critic David Edelstein has this review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN, BYLINE: It's generally lazy to describe a movie as X meets Y, as in, say, it's "Bambi" meets "The Exorcist." But Jordan Peele's horror comedy "Get Out" really is "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner" meets "The Stepford Wives." Peele has cited those films as inspirations and has plainly yoked them together, and he has in doing so moved the horror genre explicitly into the area of race.

The film works as a satire and a ghoulish thriller. It's a scream. Daniel Kaluuya plays Chris, a black photographer who travels to an affluent, upstate New York town with his white girlfriend, Rose, played by Allison Williams, to meet her family. Rose hasn't told them he's black, and Chris is nervous, and so are we, given the movie opened with a young black man snatched from a sidewalk and thrown into a white car.

The expectation is that this town does not want black people, that Chris will get the cold shoulder and then some - quite the opposite, it turns out. Bradley Whitford is Rose's father, Dean, a surgeon, and Catherine Keener, her mother, Missy, a psychiatrist and also a hypnotist. And both are hugely welcoming. Rose has warned Chris that her father would announce he'd have voted for Barack Obama a third time, and sure enough, he does.

Dean is so solicitous that he acknowledges how Chris must feel awkward in the presence of their black servants, the housekeeper whose manner is meek and whose hair recalls the '50s and '60s doos you see in "The Help" or "Hidden Figures," and the gardener, the housekeeper's husband, who shuffles around like he's from another era, too. But Dean says the couple is like family.

Such odd vibes in that house, though. When Dean asks Chris about their relationship, it's almost too lighthearted.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GET OUT")

BRADLEY WHITFORD: (As Dean Armitage) So how long has this been going on, this thang (ph)? (Laughter) How long?

DANIEL KALUUYA: (As Chris Washington, laughter) Four months.

WHITFORD: (As Dean Armitage) Four months.

ALLISON WILLIAMS: (As Rose Armitage) Five months actually.

KALUUYA: (As Chris Washington) She's right. I'm wrong.

WHITFORD: (As Dean Armitage) Atta-boy, better get used to saying that (laughter).

CATHERINE KEENER: (As Missy Armitage) Please. I'm so sorry.

WHITFORD: (As Dean Armitage) Oh, yeah, I'm sorry. She's right. I'm wrong (laughter). See?

WILLIAMS: (As Rose Armitage) Does he have an off button 'cause this is exhausting.

WHITFORD: (As Dean Armitage) I know and I want to give you a tour.

WILLIAMS: (As Rose Armitage) Can we, like, unpack first?

WHITFORD: (As Dean Armitage) You want to unpack before the tour?

EDELSTEIN: The performances are not over the top, just heightened enough to be eerie. Whitford's Dean is a little too effusiveness and Keener's Missy a shade too much the warm, tousled Earth Mother eager to help Chris confront his repressed guilt over the death of his mother. But Allison Williams makes Rose a reassuringly empathetic presence. She picks up on those odd vibes. She lets Chris know she understands his discomfort. Kaluuya, a British actor, is the perfect hero. His eyes are always going wide in disbelief over how invasive these people's friendliness can be.

This is Jordan Peale's directorial debut, and it feels like the work of someone who's been making features for years. He uses the wide screen, like John Carpenter in "Halloween," to throw you off-center. You jump and then laugh at your jumpiness and then jump again. He teases us mercilessly.

The movie is low-key until the last part when it's not. As he proved on the TV sketch comedy show "Key & Peele," Jordan Peele knows the difference between parody and satire. Although "Get Out" goofs on horror conventions, it's after something deeper. Many filmmakers depict the racism of, well, racists, the Klan and white supremacists. But without giving too much away, I can say that Peele, who has a white mother and black father, is tweaking liberals.

The movie is a metaphor - the paranoid extreme of what can happen when white people appropriate black culture. Peele makes you believe not just that the end of the comedy "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner" could be the horror of the "Stepford Wives," he makes you believe that it has to be.

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine. This Sunday, he'll be live-blogging the Academy Awards at the magazine's culture website vulture.com.

(SOUNDBITE OF NINO ROTA'S "LA DOLCE VITA")

BIANCULLI: On Monday's show, we talk with nature photographer Joel Sartore about his photo art project, making beautiful studio portraits of animals in zoos and rescue centers, animals like the Bengal slow loris, the white Arctic fox and the snow mouse.

JOEL SARTORE: They're animals that will never have their voices heard before they go away, before they're led off to extinction.

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(SOUNDBITE OF NINO ROTA'S "LA DOLCE VITA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.