I remember my first introduction to Jordan Peele. It was during his time on Mad TV, the live sketch comedy series that was rival to Saturday Night Live. Often, he would be in scenes with co-star Keegan-Michael Key where the two would later go on and branch off on their own venture Key & Peele. Both are natural talents as comedians and writers, and it shows in every pre-taped sketch of the series that ran successfully for 5 seasons. My favorite sketches were always the college bowl ones where the two trade off increasingly ridiculous names as their athlete persona is introduced. Though more parody to it, there is a bit of truth to some of these players names and the duo understood the impact of adding real life experience into their show.
That same impact of art imitating life follows Peele in his writing and feature length film debut Get Out. Part comedy, Peele blends his style within his screenplay to create a breath of fresh air that isn’t genre specific – when the script, that earned Peele the Oscar for best original screenplay is meant to be funny, it leans headfirst into the comedy to cause a welcomed distraction but when the film calls for moments of discomfort due to the societal expectations, those emotions become overpowering, suggesting that the actors talent may be better served behind the camera rather than in front.
Don’t get me wrong, anything with Jordan Peele in front of the camera is worth the watch, especially if Keegan is involved too, whether its live action or lending their voices to an animated film. It’s always the funny ones that have the dark, twisted minds – perfect for a career transition into the horror genre. When the horror element is taking a back seat, and there isn’t much of it, Peele doesn’t use cheap scares to make his film terrifying, the social commentary commands the spotlight.
As the title suggests, Get Out revolves around Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) taking a trip upstate to meet his girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) parents for the weekend. A completely normal everyday occurrence for a new couple looking to take the relationship to the so-called “next level”. For some, meeting your partners parents can cause severe anxiety and in Chris’s case, the color of his skin raises the skepticism alarm. “Do they know” he asks Rose as they prepare to journey upstate, hinting at the tightrope some balance on when introducing a partner with different skin color to family members. Rose counters “If my dad could have, he would have voted for Obama for a third term”.
Therein lies the brilliance of Peele’s screenplay. Rose, her father Dean (Bradley Whitford), her mother Missy (Catherine Keener), and brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) are not the typical trope-ish family that’s usually depicted in this type of scenario. Instead, the Armitage family come from a liberally generational wealth family passed down from generation to generation. Dean is a neurosurgeon and Missy is a psychiatrist specializing in hypnotism. The Armitage family then becomes the invisible line, lurking in the shadows, the ones who claim they love black people and the culture, but stay silent when the time for protest comes after outrage, only to be the head of a strange cult that captures black people because of their unique bodies and transfers their ancestors into the bodily vessel.
Without explicitly showing it, the pieces of the puzzle begin to take shape. Peele sets the viewer’s imagination a blaze picturing the horror of trapping these individuals and drugging them beyond consciousness becoming the nightmare. Opening the film is an abduction of an unknown black man, later identified as Andre Washington / Logan King (LaKeith Stanfield). Housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson) raise the odd-like qualities this seemingly normal family puts on a front for. As the story progresses the perfect family begins to crack – Walter is seen running at full speed in the pitch black while Georgina will break the screwed up method-like acting she can’t control. If that wasn’t enough, Dean will explicitly drop subtle hints about black people, comparing them to deer that he would casually run over and leave for dead.
After that line of dialogue, Chris should have left well before getting hypnotized. Always listen to your gut instincts. It’s creepy and not a great icebreaker – only to foreshadow the climax of the film in which the thing that Dean hates the most, ends up killing him.
Among the outstanding screenplay and direction from Peele is the detail used to enhance the viewing experience. Both Logan and Walter wear hats, Georgina has a hairstyle that covers her forehead – all to hide Dean the neurosurgeon’s work in their creepy blocked off basement that has black mold. But it isn’t Peele stealing the limelight for the entirety, star Daniel Kaluuya looks perfectly comfortable being uncomfortable in this situation. With only his best friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery) understanding the potential danger Chris may be in, Peele blends the tone between horror and comedy without a second thought to it all. As a character, Rod represents the audience but who is a lot closer to the action. He reacts the way we all claim we would if put in a similar situation delivering the laugh out loud moments that ease the built up tension.
One viewing may not get the point across that Peele is attempting to shine a light on. Yes, the themes can generally be picked up on as they are written in plain sight, but it goes way deeper, addressing some of the most fundamental issues of race relations we face in society today. Get Out is dark and full of despair and the metaphors are used by Peele as if to open the eyes of the ignorantly blind who choose to help only when it’s convenient to them.
For a directorial debut, Get Out is an achievement in every aspect as well as an easy success for Jason Blum and Blumhouse productions. Along with composer Michael Abels crafting a haunting score that creates the tension and anticipated horror and cinematographer Toby Oliver capturing the horrific fear, Peele is the type of writer and director with something to say where we should all stop and listen fully to understand the message. If the performances aren’t enough to fully engross, the story will and will stay with the viewer well beyond seeing it.
Written By: Jordan Peele
Directed By: Jordan Peele
Music By: Michael Abels
Cinematography: Toby Oliver
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root, Catherine Keener, LaKeith Stanfield, Lil Rel Howery
Release Date: February 24, 2017
Running Time: 1 Hour 44 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%