It’s late at night and a guy wanders through a pleasant suburb, checking his phone. Then he realises he’s being followed by a car. It’s playing Flanagan and Allen’s “Run, Rabbit, Run”.
Never has that trite little song seemed so sinister, or so strangely funny, and yet it rather sets the tone for Jordan Peele’s debut as a director, Get Out. Not that he’s a complete newbie to movies, with acting and voiceover credits to his name, as well as writing and producing. He’s written this one as well, and it’s taken American audiences by storm.
Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and the lovely Rose (Allison Williams) have been dating for some months when she suggests they visit her parents for the weekend. He’s not too sure, given that they’re white and he’s their beloved daughter’s first black boyfriend. But they’re supposed to be liberal and right-on, so he goes along with it. The sight of the family estate takes him by surprise and that’s not all that bothers him. Maid Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and groundsman Walter (Marcus Henderson) are like something out of The Stepford Wives. So are all the family friends, including a face that looks strangely familiar…
In truth, things aren’t quite right well before they arrive at the family home, with a deer charging across the road and crashing into their car. A familiar horror convention and there’s more on the way but, as well as giving you a jolt, it has another purpose. Rose’s dad (Bradley Whitford) is as embarrassing as she had described him, professing that he would have voted in Obama for a third term, given the chance. But he also regards deer as vermin and is happy that the couple mowed one down. It’s an early sniff of racism in the air, made all the stronger by the liberal values both he and Rose’s mother (Catherine Keener) go out of their way to smugly proclaim. Plus there’s clearly something nasty in the basement, as dad claims they’ve closed it because of black mould. Even newcomers to horror will pick up on that one.
But this isn’t a conventional fright movie. There’s a few jumpy moments and a certain amount of gore (including a rather neat shot of the reflection in Whitford’s glasses as he opens up somebody’s skull), especially in the second half. Yet it doesn’t so much jangle your nerves as give them a rather pleasant tingle. Not that it matters, because there’s more to Get Out than just plain ol’ horror. Comedy, for one, mainly courtesy of the knock-out laughterfest that is Chris’s best friend, Rod (LilRel Howery) who, as he keeps reminding everybody, has been trained by the TSA. He grabs every single comedy line and gives them everything he’s got – and he’s always bang on target.
And there’s the mind-bending psychedelia. Rose’s mum is a psychotherapist, specialising in hypnotherapy, which she delights in using on Chris. Just make sure you don’t nod off next time you’re sat having tea with somebody and they start stirring it. You may wake up somewhere you didn’t expect. As, indeed, does Chris, only to discover it’s all part of the parents’ nasty little plan.
So there’s the horror, the comedy, the psychedelia – and even more, something that at least in part accounts for the film’s popularity in the States. The film’s underlying racism is clear from early on, but it goes hand in hand with a constant uncertainty and the result is a deeply uncomfortable paranoia. The central character would have a bad enough time if he were white, but the fact that Chris is black and that Rose’s family employs black servants as well, makes it just stronger and decidedly prickly.
Get Out doesn’t replace the scares with humour – Peele is too smart to do that. Instead, he balances the fear with laughs and then laces everything with social comment and that unsettling tone. The fact that Chris is so eminently likeable just underlines it. It all adds up to something of a treat – for everybody, not just horror fans.
Get Out opens in UK cinemas on Friday, 17th March.