One half of well-known comedic duo Key & Peele, Jordan Peele’s directorial debut likely comes with expectations that his first true foray into horror would be heavily supplemented with comedy. Peele instead smashes those expectations with a sobering social critique that unnerves in both commentary and mind-bending terror. A true horror fan, Peele wears his horror influences on his sleeve while delivering a modern horror masterpiece.

Peele instead smashes those expectations with a sobering social critique that unnerves in both commentary and mind-bending terror.

The setup is simple; Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a city dwelling photographer, travels with his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), to an upstate country estate to meet her family for the first time on a weekend getaway. Due to the interracial nature of their relationship, Chris is apprehensive of this first meeting, but Rose assures him her parents are open and accepting. Rose’s parents, played by Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener, seem well-intentioned but tone deaf and welcome Chris with open arms.  While Rose’s younger brother, played by Caleb Landry Jones, comes across as more abrasive and challenging.  It’s an awkward yet pleasant enough first meeting, save for the strange behavior of the hired help. As his surroundings become increasingly bizarre, Chris is frantic to uncover the truth, but it may be too late.

In terms of horror, there are clear inspirations for Peele’s debut.  The horror themes at play are reminiscent of classics before it, but that doesn’t matter. Every element involved in this feature is so deftly handled, and woven together by a relevant and daring narrative that it still feels new. The obvious central theme involves racism, but Peele doesn’t take the easy route.  Instead, he holds up a mirror to the elite white liberals, those that deem themselves as accepting and aware but aren’t nearly as progressive as they’d like to believe.  It’s harrowing in its truth, and leaves a long-lasting impression.

Yet, it’s not as heavy handed as it would seem. Peele’s aptitude and background in comedy has given him a knack for timing. The narrative moves along at a flawless pace, with the sense of foreboding dread increasing in pressure until an insane climax.  Moments of levity releases a bit of that tension at key moments before building again, by way of scene stealer LilRel Howery as Chris’ best friend and TSA agent. Considering the immeasurable talent among the cast, this is no small feat.

This film serves as a reminder of why the film going experience is fun.

The cast is key in what makes this film so effective.  Not only do they all give nuanced performances, but they approach the subject matter with an impressive level of authenticity.  The combination of these actors and the richly rendered characters that Peele has written makes for one of the rarest treats in horror; characters that you actually empathize with.

Perhaps most important of all, though, is that Peele hasn’t forgotten the importance of entertainment.  Sure, the film is very relevant in topic, and there are scares a plenty, but this film serves as a reminder of why the film going experience is fun. The entire audience for my screening fell deep under this film’s spell.  Other than moments of screams followed by nervous laughter, the audience remained in an enraptured silence, save for the most joyous of cheers and applauding at the end. It’s a perfect balance of relevance, entertainment and scares that proves a tricky balance to pull off for even seasoned horror vets, yet Peele pulls it off with an effortless ease. Peele’s debut doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it does reinforce why horror matters.

Get Out will arrive in theaters on February 24, 2017.

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