Comedian Jordan Peele’s directorial debut “Get Out” has certainly reeled in a ton of high praise. The former Comedy Central sketch series star also wrote the screenplay for this wild mish-mash of genres, influences, and ideas. Peele clearly aims to make a movie that can be several different things at once, but I’m not sure any of the film’s multiple identities are all that strong.
Many have called “Get Out” a horror-comedy and that seems fitting enough. Problem is I had to strain hard to find it either funny or scary. The humor ranges from conventional to glaringly satirical. It leans especially hard into its biting social/racial satire much of which is either too silly or too on-the-nose. Then you have the horror element which teases but never fully delivers. I feel Peele is making a subconscious play intended to make us fear what the film is implying more than what it is showing. I like that idea but even it is subverted by the shaky attempts at humor and the sheer absurdity of it all.
The film starts with promise – a startling opening sequence showing a young black man walking through a (presumably) white upper-class neighborhood. It’s late at night and the young man is searching for an address. A car creeps up behind him causing him to nervously change course. The inevitable interaction that follows makes a strong statement as well as launches the story in a compelling direction.
There is a very “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” meets “The Stepford Wives” vibe from there. It starts by introducing us to a young photographer named Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) who agrees to meet the rich parents of his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams). As they pack for their weekend visit Chris asks “They know I’m black, right?” Rose reassures him even tossing out that her parents would have voted Obama in for a third term. If that’s the case clearly nothing could go wrong, right?
The two travel to the secluded countryside estate of Rose’s parents (shrewdly played by Bradley Whitfield and Catherine Keener). Their visit coincides with an annual house party her parents throw for their posh, powerful (and white) acquaintances. As the collection of stiff, suit-and-gown bluebloods meet Chris they seem impervious to their racial insensitivities (we get several goofy lines about liking Tiger Woods and black being “in fashion”).
On one hand Peele is doing something crafty underneath these peculiar interactions. They actually have purpose. On the other hand it’s hard to believe someone wouldn’t see through all the weirdness and (as the title says) get out of there. This is stressed even more by the groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson) and the housekeeper Georgina (keenly played by Betty Gabriel). Both are African-Americans who exist in a freaky trance-like state. Again, how anyone would stick around is beyond me. But to be fair horror movies often ask you to simply go with things like this.
Aside from a handful of intriguing bits, things finally begin to simmer in the final act right up until its wonky blood-soaked ending. The finale features a crazy tonal shift which is sure to satisfy crowds but felt jarring and out of sync with the rest of the film. Peele flirts with going in a more gonzo direction which would have been a lot of fun. Instead he chooses a more traditional horror route that could be taken a number of ways from ridiculous all the way to borderline offensive.
There are several other issues that hold the film back. One is Daniel Kaluuya’s performance. Yes, I know he has been universally praised, but for me he gives two very different performances. The first half of the film features a flat, low-key Kaluuya who relies on the same puzzled expression over and over again. The second half sees him open up and his performance moves from bland to really good. Other problems tie into Peele’s script. There are numerous gaping holes in the logic and some laughable conveniences. There is also a key moment where Peele completely tips his hand too early and ends up seriously undercutting the tension in what could have been one of the film’s best scenes.
It would be dishonest not to admit to being surprised at the profound adulation for “Get Out”. I do understand why people like it. It explores some meaty themes and there are some truly interesting narrative angles. I think that’s why I found myself so frustrated at its uneven execution. I can see the ingredients for a better film sprinkled all through this one. Ultimately it’s a perplexing first feature for Peele – one that shows him to be a promising young filmmaker with big ideas, but one who needs to work on his handling of them.
VERDICT – 2.5 STARS