Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, Get Out, might be the best horror film since The Babadook. It most definitely is the best horror/comedy since The Cabin in the Woods, and may be the most exciting debut by a first-time filmmaker in recent memory. I mean, hell, you probably already knew that, as it’s not every day that a movie’s advertising campaign hones in on the fact that it has a straight-up one hundred percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I know those are some big words to start a review with, but I’m pretty confident that once you sit down and watch this goddamn movie you’ll be gushing to your friends in similar terms.
It’s just that good.
Get Out tells the story of Chris (the excellent Daniel Kaluuya), a gifted photographer, who has a pretty normal life: A nice apartment in the middle of a big city, a really cute little dog, a close best friend who moonlights as a TSA agent (Lil Rel Howery), and a loving girlfriend named Rose (Allison Williams). Rose invites him to visit her parents, who live up in the country, and the two set out on a trip to meet them. Of course, Chris feels a little uncomfortable meeting her folks, given that she hasn’t told them he’s a black man, and the awkwardness is palpable as the hyper-white Armitage clan welcomes them to their house. Things start off alright — the Dad (Bradley Whitford) loves Obama and the Mom (Catherine Keener) is a caring therapist — but get weirder and weirder as their visit goes on and the more Chris learns about them. Dad’s pop lost to Jesse Owens in the qualifier for the ‘36 Olympics, Mom really wants to hypnotise Chris (to cure his smoking habit, of course!), and Rose’s brother (Caleb Landry Jones) is a drunken louse who likes his UFC a little too much. Soon, Chris knows something isn’t right, and to say anything else would be a crime.
You should go into this as fresh as you possibly can.
Like any great director, Peele wears his influences on his shoulders, with ideas and images repurposed from sources as obvious as Kubrick or The Stepford Wives or as unexpected as Under the Skin and Charlie Kaufman. This synthesis of ideas feels organic and original, and makes the whole thing fresh and unpredictable in the way the horror genre should feel. His observational skills serve him super well as a horror director, as they’re almost as essential to effective horror filmmaking as they are to comedy. On a cinematic level, he’s a master at finding one or two things that really bother people, such as the sound of silverware scraping on china or a particular vocal tic, and exploiting them to their maximum potential. I mean, seriously, there’s some Carpenter-level sound design here, and it’s brilliant. Australian cinematographer Toby Oliver shoots the film with intense close-ups and a beautifully muted color pallette, and gives the film a visual style essential to its success.
On a storytelling and situational one, Peele’s satirical powers have never been better. The “Meet the Parents” awkwardness has been explored in a lot of media, from Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and on and on, but Peele’s take here has much sharper teeth than anything we’ve seen before. He’s able to tease out the utter weirdness and insidiousness in a microaggression or an off-putting look and transform them into something truly terrifying and creepy. Uncomfortable laughter at the start of the movie eventually gives way to claustrophobic shivers by the 40-minute mark, and it wouldn’t land half as well if the cast wasn’t so damn good at their jobs. There’s a fascinating menace underneath each ignorant remark made by the Armitages and their friends, and Peele coaxes truly menacing performances from the likes of Keener, Williams, and Whitford that only enhances the vibe. There’s so much to unpack and talk about on a thematic level, and I can only imagine the interesting conversations we’ll be having about this movie for years to come.
And Christ, is it funny. Though the tension and atmosphere that he spends the film building might be its greatest achievement, Peele also still knows how to make motherfuckers laugh, and he uses that to break the tension and allow the audience to breathe every couple of minutes. Howery, the TSA Agent, provides much of Get Out’s best laughs, and it’s actually possible to see bits and pieces of classic characters from Key and Peele in his interactions with Kaluuya. They have an easy rapport similar to the one the two hosts had on the show, and it really helps to liven up the proceedings once there’s been an extended creepiness. There’s also some straight-up gallows humor later in the film so black it’s hard to believe it’s in a multiplex release, and Peele uses it beautifully, building up to an all-timer ending for a horror flick.
I’ll admit, I was pretty baffled when Get Out was announced, and part of that might have been me being saucy about Key and Peele ending so that the pair could go on to bigger and brighter things. But Jordan Peele has absolutely justified this pivot, and I can see him becoming a figure in the vein of Mike Nichols, where his partnership with Keegan-Michael Key is so overshadowed by the rest of his work that it feels interesting footnote in a vast and wonderful career, much like Nichols and May before The Graduate.
And yes, I believe there’s enough similar about the two to justify a comparison — Get Out is just as much a generational manifesto and social satire as that film was, and hopefully it will expand the world of Hollywood in a similar way. Perhaps it’ll force the studios to acknowledge the changing dimensions of the demographics that make up their audience, and include more diverse voices across the genre spectrum. This feels like a similar paradigm shift, and we’re all luckier to have Jordan Peele, director, in our lives.
Follow Nick Johnston on Twitter @onlysaysficus