A young African-American man walks down an idyllic street in the middle of the night and finds himself followed by a white car blasting polka music. “Get Out” opens with this gem of a scene, and like the opener of any great film, it encapsulates everything the audience needs to know about what will follow. It’s foreboding, creepy, funny, uncomfortable and Jordan Peele (“Key & Peele”) directs the hell out of it.
“Get Out” is so well-rounded that it’s hard to nail down exactly what the star aspect of the thing is. In his directorial debut, Peele shoots the aforementioned scene in a single gut-twisting shot whose fluid motion and point-of-view stylings bring to mind horror classics like “Halloween” and more contemporary films like “The Conjuring.” For a first time director, he has an astonishingly assured hand. Even the smallest of camera movements during an otherwise peaceful dialogue scene are immediately disquieting. The use of sound, especially in its sometimes sudden absence, adds to the deeply uncomfortable atmosphere that he spends the entire runtime cultivating.
It’s impossible to discount the strength of the leads though. Daniel Kaluuya (“Sicario”) is absolutely commanding in the lead performance as Chris, a Black man who goes with his white girlfriend to visit her family upstate. In the beginning, it is a mostly understated performance made up of Chris’s ticks as he deals with a near-constant barrage of unintentional racism. As the plot thickens, Kaluuya transforms Chris into more of a classic horror protagonist, desperate in his quest for survival and able to communicate the depths of his character’s inner thoughts with little more than a glance.
Props must also go to Bradley Whitford (“The Cabin in the Woods”) for turning on a dime between affable and creepy. Lil Rey Howery (“The Carmichael Show”) nearly runs away with the entire movie, though, in a comedic performance that lands the laughs every time. “Get Out” is classified as a horror-comedy, and Howery allows Peele to bring his already clear-cut talents as a renowned funnyman to the screen without detracting from the thrills.
It is worth noting that while “Get Out” has been marketed as a horror film first and foremost, it operates more as a psychological thriller than anything else. There is little in the way of classic “scares” here, and while Peele’s commitment to creating an unnerving mood for his film is admirable, the pacing does tend to drag at certain points.
Still, Peele is a confident storyteller, as evidenced by the series of reveals that dot the film, peeling back the layers of the plot while simultaneously adding new ones to the subtext. Some of these twists work better than others; they all land, but where one in particular is foreshadowed throughout the movie and should prove enjoyable during the inevitable repeat viewings, others feel much more sudden and even borderline silly. It’s certainly not enough to ruin or even really dampen the experience, but there were stronger directions to take the story that would have had the same thematic effect.
All of this, even the flaws, adds up to a deeply uncomfortable, unsettling movie experience, and that’s the point. Peele clearly wanted to create a film that confronted and deconstructed the racism pervasive in modern society, and on that level, “Get Out” is a resounding success. It’s in the dialogue, the little racist pokes that add up to something more sinister over time. It’s in the performances, the effect that even the most unintentional jabs have on the characters and the audience. And nowhere is it more evident than in the direction, the lens through which we are forced to watch and reckon with the myriad modern prejudices that many still face today.