Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
We all know and love the bonkers, brilliant comedy actor Jordan Peele created with partner Keegan Michael-Key on Comedy Central’s wildly successful series KEY & PEELE. In practically every skit, the pair knew how to bring the most absurd, audacious ideas to life. But who would’ve ever thought Peele would peel away from comedy to write and direct such assured work as he’s done with GET OUT. The gripping horror-comedy (a satirical take on GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER) has a socially relevant bent that’s clever, but not quite enough to push it to the next level.
Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) have been dating only a few short months when Rose takes him home on a weekend trip to meet her family. While her parents – neurosurgeon dad Dean (Bradley Whitford) and psychiatrist mom Missy (Catherine Keener) – don’t know she’s dating a black guy, she swears they will be cool with it as they are liberals who “would’ve voted for Obama a third time” if they could. However, when they arrive, Chris notices Rose’s family – including her medical student brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) – isn’t exactly as open-minded as previously pitched. If that’s not enough, the family’s maid Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson) are curiously stuck in servitude, and the only other black person he meets (Lakeith Stanfield) is acting wacky as well.
Listen, the less I spill, the better your experience will be. There are twists and turns that need to remain hidden. It should also be noted that this should be seen with as big a crowd as possible – just to get the full effect of said twists and turns. Peele’s scares and creeps – which are all in the “earned” category” – are most effective with a loud sound system and the rest of the theater jumping and gasping right along with you. And the filmmaker gives you plenty of opportunities to do both.
Sound design earns high marks here, augmenting the thick, unsettling atmosphere. The clank of a spoon against the side of a teacup repeatedly, the sound of rain and the crackling of fire lull audiences into a sense of safety, all the while feeling something ominous is on the horizon. Michael Abels’ score infuses the picture with a Kubrick-ian texture, adding to the underpinnings of Kubrick’s influence on Peele’s narrative. There’s even a throw-away line Stanfield mutters at the beginning of the film about the streets seeming maze-like. Art Director Chris Craine’s symmetry, most staggering in the basement chambers, also recalls THE SHINING. Perhaps the best sequence in the movie where everything – including Gregory Plotkin’s crisp cuts and Toby Oliver’s cinematography – works in concert is Chris’ hypnosis sequence, where his sunken place recalls the alien netherworld of UNDER THE SKIN.
Paranoia runs deep, but performances cut to the quick. The entire ensemble gives razor-sharp performances that serve to unnerve. Peele has assembled a cast that’s magnificent at playing up their characters’ shady sides. Most of the comedic heavy-lifting is owed to LilRel Howery, who plays Chris’ bestie/ TSA Agent Rod Williams. His no-nonsense zingers provide the breathing room we need during the intense proceedings. He’s owed a debt of gratitude for making TSA agents look good.
That said, I wish Peele went one step further with his incisive commentary. I kept waiting for a moment where it became transcendent. Thematically, he obviously bats around and follows through on the provocative notion that white liberals say they like black people, but only when they’re docile and agreeable. We get this in act one – right at the moment Chris sees the Armitage’s staff. But by the time the third act comes around, the story skews more towards the thriller aspects – how is Chris going to escape this nightmare, versus how do we resolve this societal dichotomy. Plus, Peele pulls a lot of narrative inspiration from THE STEPFORD WIVES and THE SKELETON KEY – so much so, you’ll probably figure out the mystery sooner than the protagonist. That’s still fine given the visuals are such a trip.
GET OUT opens on February 24.