Get Out review – tea, bingo… and racial terror

A young black man meets his white girlfriend’s parents in Jordan Peele’s chilling satire of liberal racism in the US

Ira Levin, author of Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives, would have cracked a wry smile at the cackling satire of this chilling “social thriller”, the directorial debut from MadTV alumnus Jordan Peele. When a preppy rich girl takes her African American boyfriend home for the first time, loving harmony turns to creeping discord. Diving deep into the broiling undercurrents of “post-racial” America, Peele’s hybrid creation starts out like a modern reworking of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, before drifting towards the more brutal territories of Kevin Smith’s Red State or Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room, via the eerie mysteries of Charles Burnett’s To Sleep With Anger. Beneath the beatific smile of 21st-century liberalism, Get Out finds the still grinning ghoulish skull of age-old servitude and exploitation unveiled during a rollercoaster ride into a very American nightmare.

“Don’t go to a white girl’s parents’ house!” warns LilRey Howery’s lovable transport security administration officer Rod, conspiracy theorist and best friend to handsome, intelligent Chris (versatile British actor Daniel Kaluuya). “Do they know I’m black?” Chris asks his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), as the couple prepare for a “meet the folks” weekend in her rural family home. “Should they?” she replies, assuring Chris that her neurosurgeon father would have voted for Obama a third time if he could, a claim he duly repeats on cue. “I hate the way it looks,” blushes patriarch Dean (Bradley Whitford), showing Chris around the Armitage estate (“white family, black servants, total cliche”), where groundsman Walter (Marcus Henderson) and housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel) smile like supporting players in Gone With the Wind. Meanwhile Rose’s mum, Missy (a superbly nuanced turn from Catherine Keener), promises to cure Chris of his smoking habit through a single bout of hypnotherapy, triggered by the chiming of a spoon in a teacup.

Get Out: trailer for Jordan Peele’s comedy horror

A pre-credits sequence on an upmarket suburban street sees Lakeith Stanfield (who first made his mark in the terrific Short Term 12) being jumped to the bizarrely sinister strains of Flanagan and Allen’s Run, Rabbit, Run. Shortly thereafter, Chris finds himself staring into the eyes of a dying deer, an eerie pre-echo of the antlered head that looks down on him from the wall of the Armitages’ games room. There’s a touch of the trophy about keen-eyed photographer Chris, too, as Rose’s extended family prod, probe and patronise him (“I do know Tiger,” insists one ageing golfer), crooning that “fair skin has been in favour for years, but now the pendulum has swung back – black is in fashion!” Gradually, inexorably, the cringe-inducing “gliberal” awkwardness turns to something more sinister, as rooms are hushed in conspiratorial whispers, cellars are locked against creeping “black mould”, and a game of family bingo climaxes in a silent shriek.

Sharply written by Peele (who teamed up with Keegan-Michael Key, his co-star in hit US sketch series Key & Peele, for last year’s patchy feline action spoof Keanu), Get Out is at its best when hinting at horrors hidden beneath the genteel facade. From the toe-curling “my man!” chumminess of Dean to the blank stares of the domestic staff and the barely suppressed violence of Rose’s “douche bag” brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones), the Armitage home leaves us unsure whether to laugh, cry or scream. A night-time sequence, in which Walter runs out of the darkness towards Chris, has the same sense of American gothic dread as David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, while the humour vacillates between the broader strokes of Rusty Cundieff’s underrated Tales from the Hood and the insidious cruelty of Lars von Trier’s Manderlay.

Inevitably, the thematic rewards lessen somewhat as suspense turns to revelation, but Peele knows how to orchestrate an arresting set piece, and doesn’t skimp on cathartic spectacle in the third act. There’s a crowd-pleasing logic at work here even as credibility wobbles (an issue with which Levin wrestled repeatedly), and you’ll be too busy digging your nails into the arms of your seat to worry about distracting implausibilities. Crucially, the ensemble cast keep the energy levels high enough to prevent disengagement – to stop us from snapping out of the film’s hypnotic spell.

“It’s such a privilege to be able to experience another person’s culture,” coos Dean, showing off the multicultural trinkets of his travels, flaunting his ethno-friendly credentials. As for the film’s title, it can be read as either a threat or a warning, a duality emphasised by Michael Abels’s rich and deceptively complex score. From creaks and whispers to crashes and bangs, the soundtrack guides us through this strange creepy-comic land. The next time you hear a silver spoon on bone china, you’ll want to run for the hills.


Mark Kermode, Observer film critic

The GuardianTramp

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