While some of the best horror movies found clever, subversive ways to address race—see the original Night of the Living Dead, for starters—very few have tried to infuse comedy into that mix. The three together seem like oil, water, and tomato sauce. Yet Jordan Peele's directorial debut Get Out does pursue that ambitious concoction, and the deafening hype that has resulted—100% on Rotten Tomatoes, anyone—turns out to be pretty much justified.
Daniel Kaluuya (known to most people as "the guy from the Black Mirror ep where they ride stationary bikes for points") stars as Chris, a young black man who is about to spend the weekend with his white girlfriend Rose's family. He's apprehensive, and his friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery) warns him to stay away. Not for any particular reason; mostly because bringing home a person of a different race can be awkward.
But Rose (Allison Williams) insists it'll be fine, and her parents (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) seem nice at first. Then Rose's creepy brother (Caleb Landry Jones) starts to make a scene at dinner, and repeated interactions with the black maid and groundskeeper (Betty Gabriel and Marcus Henderson) become painfully awkward fast.
Peele doesn't waste much time leaving us guessing; it's clear early on that some evil shit is going down. But because it's Peele, a lot of the unease comes with laughs. And Kaluuya sells every concerning moment with a horrified stare and a "fuck" or a "shit," answering the call of everyone who watches a horror movie and wonders why the characters aren't raising a hundred eyebrows or freaking out at every turn.
In fact, the best scenes might be the intimate ones with Henry the groundskeeper and Georgina the maid. Chris is just happy to have someone nearby with whom he can (potentially) relate, but the deep oddness that both Gabriel and Henderson summon for their characters' replies will leave you squirming in your chair. It's partly out of concern that these appear to be two people in turmoil; it's also confusion as to why they're being so goddamn weird. And Kaluuya, again, lets Chris live within the uncomfortableness. To him, the most troubling element of this entire weekend might be how strange the other black people are being.
In these moments of forced smiles and stilted banter, Peele leaves the camera planted on faux-happy faces, summoning a The Stepford Wives comparison plus years of black subjugation at the hands of white people. And, of course, the good old "visiting the girlfriend's parents" dynamic means Chris can't run away, no matter how freaked out he becomes; he would embarrass himself in front of potential future in-laws. That, plus the "it's just in your head" horror trope that is also employed here, provides a barrage of reasons as to why we're continuing down this path.
This is one of the more wonderful elements of Peele's first film: how well he establishes story catalysts and motivations. He puts a ton of balls in the air: The concern that comes with meeting new and potentially judgmental elders, being the only black person in a sea of white people, the fear of opening up after a traumatic event. Now Chris has a handful of different motivations, allowing his every move to make that much more sense. It's one of those things you don't miss until it's there; then you wonder how you ever lived without it.
As with many horror movies, it gets a little clunky at the close. But what makes Get Out so great is how easily it can pivot to comedy at times of need. There's also a point when it becomes less about a black person versus white people and more about a hero versus his enemies, a slight but meaningful adjustment that keeps the themes alive but gets all potential audience members on the same page. It's sort of ingenious; we're already firmly behind Chris, but the desire for his revenge and escape becomes all-encompassing. Peele doesn't sell his soul and embrace a white audience; he allows his story to dip into logical territory while never forgetting race's role in its genesis.
Peele has really stuffed the best of many worlds into his witch's brew. There are elements of a jump-centric modern horror film, and a lot of laugh-out-loud moments, plus the significant undercurrent of not necessarily race relations but race interactions. The end result is exactly the kind of movie you should see in theaters. A hot crowd, to scream and groan and cheer with, can turn it from a fun two hours into an experience really worth remembering.