Racism gets the horror treatment in Jordan Peele's 'Get Out'

Allison Williams and Daniel Kaluuya star in Get Out.

Allow me a little rant about the withered state of things: Nobody wants to put on their shoes and go to the cinema anymore! We just had the Oscars last weekend, right? Every year I bribe my friends into watching the show with me by plying them with food and booze. I practically force them at gunpoint to fill out an Oscar ballot, and always I cringe at their constant refrain: "I haven't seen any of these movies." Constantly, I fear that cinema will go extinct and it makes me lose my mind. It's not that people aren't seeing movies—they're just waiting to stream them at home, alone, in the safe confines of their living rooms.

The latest horror-comedy, Get Out, makes a great case for the importance of movie theaters. This is a film that celebrates so many staples of the genre that came before, that understands how it feels to be emotionally invested in the story onscreen and, armed with that knowledge, delivers an out-of-the-park audience experience. Not since a midnight showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show have I seen a crowd get so worked up.

This is Guess Who's Coming to Dinner meets Six Flags' Kingda Ka roller coaster after surviving a car wreck while winning the lottery.

Jordan Peele makes his directing and writing debut with Get Out. His previous work includes the sketch comedy show Key & Peele. In last year's comedy Keanu, Peele played a recently dumped movie-loving stoner whose will to live is revived by an adorable kitten. "What happened?" Key asks. Peele takes a huge bong hit in front of posters for New Jack City and Heat and says, "She said my life wasn't going anywhere." [Exhales a cloud of smoke.] "What the fuck does that even mean?" I like to imagine an inter-textual world wherein Peele's stoner persona in Keanu filters his heartbreak into making Get Out.

The film stars Daniel Kaluuya (Black Mirror) as Chris Washington, and it's a mesmerizing performance. He's been dating Rose Armitage (Allison Williams of Girls) for five months now and it's time for Chris to meet Rose's family. They don't know he's black, but it's fine, Rose insists. "My dad would have voted for Obama a third time if he could."

Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford play Rose's parents with painful accuracy as wealthy liberals who hilariously fall over themselves to demonstrate to Chris that—despite their creepy, robotic black servants—they're not racist. Reading the many ways that white critics like myself have tried to artfully write about the racism in this film could make a spin-off comedy all its own. Rather than belabor the film's social and political relevance, this feels more to me like a masterful take on the fish-out-of-water horror scenario mixed with playful satire, where our protagonist finds himself as the "other," consumed with paranoia and fear in a world where nothing is as it seems.

Get Out is bizarrely funny (helped in large part by the comic relief of Lil Rel Howery) but it functions first and foremost as a pitch-perfect thriller. With expert pacing, Peele's script builds on an impending sense of dread, which makes for a third act that's something more than cathartic—it's downright exultant.

When it comes to jump scares, I've noticed that film fans are bitterly divided on the subject. Some purists dismiss them entirely as a cheap trick, but I love them every time. Any film that can make me scream without touching me has won my affection, even if only for that moment. Are the jump scares in Get Out clever, self-referential winks at the audience, manipulative ploys or a sly amalgamation of both? That's an interpretation every filmgoer has to arrive at on her own.

Get Out continues at the Carmike 12.

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