Fifty years ago, Sydney Poitier shocked the world with “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” where an interracial couple floodlit a budding social issue, but in entertaining manner. Now, comedian Jordan Peele (“Key and Peele”) revisits the topic as an engaging suspense-thriller more reminiscent of Twilight Zone’s “To Serve Man.”
This intelligent and satirical fish-out-of-water story features a black man in a white world as well as a white social gathering most familiar with blacks in the role of servants. From the initial scene, we feel the anxiety some blacks experience walking through an affluent neighborhood, and then it builds from there. In this Hollywood horror flick, the nightmare is the reality too many African-Americans face just living in today’s society.
Mesmerizing but never preachy, Peele surprisingly lampoons patronizing liberals even more than blatant bigots. This is not a PBS documentary, so the message is thankfully only a backdrop to the thriller. The interracial couple Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose (Allison Williams) drive out to the country to meet her parents, Dean and Missy (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener), and brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones).
Although Rose assures Chris her parents are not racists, he still gets a weird vibe. Upon arrival, he immediately suspects a problem. Aided by a disorienting Michael Abels score, Peele takes us to social scenes with seemingly well-meaning people offering clichéd banter. The few blacks seem spaced out while steppin’ and fechin’ for the white folk. With this curious setting, the odds are good and goods are odd to feed his paranoia.
Dean, a neurosurgeon, reassures Chris that his family is receptive and welcoming. Missy, a psychiatrist, offers her hypnosis to help break Chris’ smoking habit. After all, smoking can be life threatening. Rose’ weird brother Jeremy tries to mix it up a bit with Chris, but even that seems strange and awkward.
The family estate is on a remote side of the lake, but not called “Happy Camp.” When Chris learns local black people have been disappearing, he tries to make a connection. His fears are heightened when someone breaks form, urging him to “Get out!” Chris must find an acceptable way to leave without alarming his girlfriend or her family.
This horror show is laced with social tension and cultural observations similar to what the “The Stepford Wives” did for women’s issues in 1975. In a rare case of Hollywood restraint, even the most violent scenes are generally bloodless and discreetly presented. A Quentin Tarantino bloodbath would have diminished the satirical focus and reduced the opportunity for reflection and discussion.
With Peele’s noted wit, each tense scene is balanced with subtle humor designed to take the edge off, but still leave the audience uncomfortable. Missy might describe it as a highly suggestive state. As some of the help assume curious characteristics, it might have been really scary if they suddenly watched reruns of “Frazier” or “Friends,” yikes!
The actors all carry their roles effectively, but Catherine Keener is especially convincing. However, the talk of the town is sketch writer-actor Jordan Peele, who creates a memorable suspense-thriller that’s entertaining as a standalone feature, but peppers the unsettling story with racial overtones and disturbing quirkiness.
“Get Out” is 103 minutes and rated R for violence, bloody images, and language. This horror film is not a slasher flick. It has more piercing references to racial issues than many of the well-meaning Oscar nominated “indies.” However, this dark, absurd and clever satire is just a lot more fun to watch.
The story is low key but compelling. It is consistently funny but isn’t a comedy. There are seriously relevant messages expertly woven into the fabric of the story. What we learn is that life can be a sick joke, so we must face the world as it is. Sometimes, it’s horrible, so Peele brilliantly reminds us that laughing is better than crying.
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