Jordan Peele's Get Out isn't Oscar material, yet it's a razored rebuttal to the movie industry's so white, so what reputation. Nothing is more Hollywood than horror movies, nor more show-business-as-usual than cultural appropriation.
Get Out is an allegory of African-American strengths being siphoned for the benefit of white people, disguised as a run-of-the-kill horror flick. Details of how Peele depicts blacks being used by whites are as gruesome as they are spoilable, so care will be taken. But as far as Get Out takes its premise, it could and should be much further.
Peele is one-half of the sketch comedy duo Key & Peele and brings that act's smartly measured outrage. As a director, Peele capably imitates the stalking dread of countless horror movies. As a writer he's fearless in theme and slow laying it out, like an IV drip of ethnic terror.
Get Out is advice to be heeded by Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), a young, gifted black photographer deeply in love with Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), who is from an affluent white family. She takes Chris to meet her parents, Dean and Missy (Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener), at their country mansion. "Do they know I'm black?" Chris asks. No, but no problem, she assures.
Yet Chris immediately senses something off. The Armitage's black handyman Walter (Marcus Henderson) and housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel) are strangely passive, almost robotic in their duties and devotion. The parents seem too interested in proving their colorblindness; Whitford makes words like "my man," "thang" and "I would've voted for Obama a third time, if I could" more sinister than usual.
Rose's mother, Missy, is a psychologist specializing in hypnosis, offering to help Chris kick a cigarette habit. Rose's brother (Caleb Landry Jones) is pushing Chris' buttons. Their visit coincides with a gathering of old family friends, all aged and lily-white except one young African-American man (Lakeith Stanfield) who doesn't know how to fist bump. Peele weaves such creepy threads for an hour until the fear comes into focus.
Get Out is drenched in veiled racism, those superficially affable behaviors not masking bigotry as well as bigots believe. In the early going, Chris shrugs off whites trying to connect by liking Tiger Woods or black as a fashion statement. A woman openly wonders if Chris is well-endowed. He's objectified, so suppressed that Rose must speak up for him at one point.
Frustration simmering inside Chris eventually boils over and Peele's movie settles into revenge mode. That's understandable given the tortures Chris has gone through, but Peele makes me want more, some Nat Turner wave of righteous carnage extending beyond the Armitage home. Get Out loses its nerve winding down but it's a rare horror flick not wasting all its brains on splatter.
Contact Steve Persall at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.