As “Get Out” begins, a Black man paces up and down a street at night in a cookie-cutter suburban neighborhood. As he speaks on the phone, peeved that he can’t find anything in this hedge maze of a place (“The Shining,” anybody?), a white car with black-tinted windows follows closely behind him, playing “Run Rabbit Run.”
When he goes to confront the car, he’s attacked by a faceless figure. His body is shoved into the back of the car and, damn it, the Black guy is already the first one to go.
This is only one of the many tropes writer-director Jordan Peele, of the sketch comedy series “Key & Peele,” attacks in his horror directorial debut. One who is familiar with the show might think that this movie would just be a spoof, poking fun at horror the way that “Scary Movie” did with the bumbling Anna Faris. While this movie is supremely funny, the comedic aspects never take away from how tangible the horror is.
Chris (Daniel Kaluuya, of “Skins” and psycho-thriller “Black Mirror”) and his new girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams, of “Girls”), head off to the sprawling brick stone manors of upstate New York for the weekend to meet Rose’s parents.
Of course, there’s the usual tension of meeting the parents for the first time, but when Chris confronts his girlfriend about her, a white girl from the suburbs, bringing home a Black guy to her parents, she laughs off his concerns.
Her dad would have voted for Obama for a third term. How could he possibly be racist?
As “Get Out” progresses, Peele doesn’t shy away from tackling any topic within his film, from NCAA draft picks to Jeffrey Dahmer to police brutality. As the couple drives through the winding, desolate forest to her parents’ home (anyone who’s seen a horror movie knows that this is not a good sign), they hit a deer that jumps out of nowhere onto the road. But the danger doesn’t come from the collision. No, it comes when the white police officer approaches the couple and pressures Chris for information, despite him not having been the one driving. In a time when police violence and other acts of aggression towards Black people have come back into the social conscience, Peele’s film holds even more poignancy in its plot.
When they finally reach the home of the Armitages, Chris gets to meet the too-perfect family, who are all clad in khaki while standing on a picturesque front porch of the family home. They welcome Chris inside with hugs and smiles and Mr. Armitage (Bradley Whitford) even tries to relate to his daughter’s new boyfriend with a haphazard, but almost endearing, “my man.”
The more time Chris spends with the family, the more unsettling his stay becomes. This film definitely has a macabre sense of humor, full of darkly funny one-liners, that’s unique in its ability to make the audience laugh while also implicating them in the horrors that are about to take place. At a family gathering — complete with Sunday church clothes, fleets of black escalades and a menacing game of bingo — Rose introduces her new boyfriend to the white socialite friends of the family, and it’s as if they’ve never met a Black person before. The commentary ranges from a reference to the line, “Once you go black…” to “I met Tiger Woods once.”
Although hilarious, the humor isn’t just about keeping the audience entertained. One of Peele’s central goals in his film is to create a body of work that reflects what it means to be Black in America. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s cringeworthy, but as all these incidents mount, the absurdity turns into horror and the audience is left asking themselves, should I really have laughed at that?
In his directorial debut, Peele terrifies his audience, bringing them to the edge of their seats. But the sense of horror doesn’t only come from Michael Abel’s eerie score, or the gory fight scenes. “Get Out” is true horror because the comedian has created a piece that confronts its audience with the fact that racism didn’t end with Martin Luther King Jr. or the Civil Rights Movement. It’s more relevant than ever. It could even be hiding in our own backyards.
“Get Out” is currently playing at UA Berkeley 7.
Contact Annalise Kamegawa at [email protected].