When Chris Washington and Rose Armitage, his white girlfriend, arrive for a weekend visit with her family in a remote, leafy suburb, Dad tries hard (too hard) to allay any discomfort his guest may be experiencing.
Or to look at it from the other end, Dr. Armitage — he’s a neurosurgeon — is trying to disguise any hint that he and Rose’s mother might themselves be experiencing any discomfort: Chris is their daughter’s first African-American significant other, and Rose hasn’t told them in advance.
Dr. Armitage addresses Chris as “my man” and tells him how much he loved Barack Obama – wished, in fact, a third term had been Constitutionally permitted. Chris, who instantly sizes up the situation, is very pleasant about the fact that his host is putting on some kind of delicately awful performance, a peculiar display of good manners as a form of cognitive dissonance. Then, as he takes Chris on a tour of the house, Dr. Armitage casually mentions that the basement door is sealed because of a problem with “black mold.”
Chris is in for a far more toxic experience — a racist nightmare –in Get Out, the daring, funny and thumpingly suspenseful movie written and directed by Jordan Peele.
The setup is obvious enough to be genre parody, starting with that title. It’s a staple line from horror movies since at least 1979’s Amityville Horror, and it’s also what a horror movie audience might scream aloud when it spots someone onscreen walking into a fatal, probably gore-splattering trap. Chris is introduced to the family’s black maid and housekeeper, both of them so robotically polite we initially wonder whether Chris is stuck in a takeoff of The Stepford Wives or, going back much farther than that, I Walked With a Zombie.
The joke here is that Chris thinks the groundskeeper, smiling yet unfriendly, is being hostile to him — resents him — and that the maid, when she unplugs the cell phone that he left charging upstairs, is possibly being passive-aggressive.
Peele’s script is such a clever synthesis of horror clichés and satire — of the whole national debate over race — that we’re willing to entertain the notion, however briefly, that Chris isn’t wrong. But then again, maybe the maid, for whatever mysterious, nefarious purpose, just doesn’t want Chris to have enough energy in his phone be able to call the outside world for help.
Peele is willing to let Get Out move along almost of its own accord, throwing in the occasional jolt and pausing for one sequence — a dreamlike trip into Chris’s unconsciousness — that’s genuinely unsettling. Then he unleashes a finale that’s not only outrageously bloody but queasily perverse. And yes, very funny.
Daniel Kaluuya plays the central role with a laser-focused seriousness that’s essential to making the whole thing work. As Rose, Allison Williams (Girls) is direct and understated (which is all that she needs to and ought to be here). As her parents, Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener behave as if they imagined they were middle-aged guest stars on Friends. They’re sitcom-charming, but tinny. You wouldn’t want anyone to fall into their orbit.
The biggest laughs come from LilRel Howery as Chris’s friend back in the city: He’s the one person in the movie who senses that Chris is in hell, and in what particular circle thereof. And that Chris needs to get out now.
Get Out is in theaters Friday, Feb. 24. Rated R.