Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Get Out

3/4

Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Lil Rel Howery, Caleb Landry Jones

Rated R for Violence, Bloody Images, and Language including Sexual References

"Get Out" is a surprisingly effective little chiller because it targets our own vulnerabilities and uses them against us.  We've all been in many of the same situations that Chris Washington finds himself in.  But never has an awkward conversation seemed so sinister.

Chris (Kaluuya) has been dating Rose Armitage (Williams) for four months, and she's bringing him home to meet her parents.  He's nervous because she is white and he is black, a fact that she has neglected to tell them.  That her parents are so liberal that her father Dean (Whitford) is likely to talk his ear off about how he would have voted for Barack Obama a third time if he could does little to ease his anxiety.  Nevertheless, he soldiers on.  When he gets there, everything is cordial, if a little strange, until Rose's mother Missy (Keener) realizes that Chris is a smoker.  He later (unwittingly) goes under Missy's hypnosis to cure it.  That's when things get really strange.

Writer/director Jordan Peele gets us on edge in subtle, but effective, ways.  Rather than violent special effects or threatening music, he uses our own knowledge of racial interaction against us.  Let me explain.  The people Chris meets seem nice, but they put him on his guard by asking him questions that sound innocent but are really inappropriate.  Questions like, "Do you think being black puts you at an advantage or disadvantage in life?"  Or how a woman he doesn't know immediately starts feeling his biceps.  And that's apart from the fact that everyone seems to be talking down to him in a way that suggests they don't think he will realize it.  Or that Walter (Marcus Henderson) and Georgina (Betty Gabriel), the Armitages' hired help (who are black), act suspiciously like robots.

Daniel Kaluuya's performance is essential to the film's success.  If we don't identify with him and his sensitivities about his race (God, that sounds much more politically correct than I meant it, although such is the film that I think Peele would get a kick out of it), the movie is sunk.  Fortunately, the English actor (sporting a flawless American accent), is excellent.  He's the everyman.  It's a difficult role (in ways that I can't elaborate on), and he nails it.  His co-star, Allison Williams, is also very good.  She's loving and intelligent and has a nice, realistic chemistry with Kaluuya.  It's easy to believe that they are a successful Millennial couple.  As for the more famous stars, Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener, well, if you get them in a film you've done at least two things right.

As unsettling as the film is, it's also funny.  Peele is one half of the comic duo Key and Peele, whose work I have not seen (after seeing him host "American's Funniest Animals" a few times, I've gotten more than my fair share of his "humor").  Much of it is of the "don't know whether I should laugh or be creeped out" variety (think "Tusk"), but some, such as the scenes with Chris's TSA agent friend Rod (Howery), who's appearances supply some amusing moments.

It's not perfect; the set-up goes on too long, the balance between funny and creepy isn't always successful and the ending isn't as visceral as Peele probably intends.  But it's well worth seeking out, especially on Blu Ray.

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