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Review: Jordan Peele’s ‘Get Out’ combines racial commentary with predictable horror

“Key & Peele” was one of the most widely successful and acclaimed sketch comedy series in recent memory. Written largely by Jordan Peele and performed by Peele and his cohort Keegan-Michael Key, the show was celebrated for tackling issues of inequality and race relations while still generating enough laughs to reach the White House. Everything from sports toPower Rangers to slavery was fair game during the show’s five seasons on air.

But while the series was certainly daring, the announcement that Peele would make his directorial debut in the horror genre with “Get Out” was met with understandable skepticism. “From comedy to jump scares” doesn’t exactly sound like a natural transition. Peele has showcased some chops as a sketch writer, but his ability to craft a 90-minute film remained to be seen.

Luckily, the results are entertaining, scary and hilarious. “Get Out” is a smart, capable horror-comedy that offers fascinating and introspective commentary on race and post-racism while still offering decent, though somewhat middling, scares. Peele puts forward a fine first effort — one that presents uncomfortable observations on the subtle inequalities that people of color face day-to-day.

The plot follows Chris (English actor Daniel Kaluuya), a Black, 20-something student dating Rose (Allison Williams), who is white. Their relationship recently hit the four-month mark, and Rose has decided to take Chris to visit her parents. Chris is open to the idea, but wary. Rose has not told either of her parents that her boyfriend is Black. She laughs off Chris’s concern. “They would have voted for Obama for a third term,” she explains. “They’re not racist.”

Never mind that their house is cared for by two Black servants who seem oddly at ease with their positions. Or that Rose’s father Dean (Bradley Whitford) pointedly brings up the fact that his father raced against Jesse Owens. Or that Rose’s mother Missy (Catherine Keener) casually hypnotizes Chris in the dead of the night “to help him quit smoking.” Later, when a large crowd of wealthy white visitors attend an annual party at the property, Chris constantly feels under surveillance. Is he being… watched?

Peele holds off answering any questions until the final act, at which point the film’s more satirical elements begin to overpower its scariness. In the meantime, he keeps us marvelously entertained. “Get Out” is a solid thriller, but its biggest surprises lie in its laughs. The script includes genuine hilarity between overbearing tension, thanks in part to a side-splitting performance from Lil Rel Howery as Chris’ concerned friend. The combination succeeds in consistently keeping the audience from ever feeling too comfortable.

The main problem with the film is how few sequences or moments are actually frightening. Outside of a small number of jump scares and the film’s general creepiness, there’s not much that will make viewers jump out of their seats. Peele’s mistakes behind the camera, which mostly result from his lack of directorial experience, are to blame. It’s tough to surprise your audience when too many scenes are slowed to a crawl, seemingly to generate some extended tension. Other small issues like a mis-framed close-up become bigger problems when repeated continuously.

Still, “Get Out” deserves praise for its content. One of Peele’s main arguments seems to be that Chris being Black is impossible to ignore for a white family like Rose’s. That’s not a subject that horror films typically dare to address. Peele has crafted a film from a perspective too often ignored in cinema. And with recent events bringing race to the forefront of American politics, we need that perspective more than ever. This film is about race because it simply has to be.

Watch the trailer for “Get Out” below: 

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Dana Alston

Dana Alston

Dana Alston is an Associate Arts & Culture Editor from San Jose, CA. He writes about film, music, and television. Paul Thomas Anderson is his one true god.

You can follow his meme-endorsed social media ramblings @AlstonDalston on Twitter or Letterboxd, or shoot him some eloquent hate mail at [email protected]