“Get Out,” a hybrid horror film, is playing at the M.V. Film Center this week. No damsels in distress, no creepy monsters. This film is more a cross between “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and “The Stepford Wives.” It’s earned four Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Original Screenplay.
British actor Daniel Kaluuya stars as Chris, an African American photographer dating Rose (Allison Williams), who is white. She invites him to visit her parents for the weekend. A preliminary sequence shows an African American man walking down a suburban sidewalk in the dark. A car booming Eminem’s “Run Rabbit Run” creeps alongside the man and abducts him. The viewer doesn’t find out who he is until much later.
The first sign that Chris is not going to feel comfortable visiting Rose’s parents comes when she tells him they don’t know Chris is black. Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener) Armitage live in the large, requisitely upper-middle-class country house. They have black servants: a cook, Georgina (Betty Gabriel), and a gardener, Walter (Marcus Henderson). Gradually things start to get weirder and weirder. Initially events seem innocuous. Driving to the Armitages, the couple hit a deer, and the policeman who arrives requires Chris to show his license. Chris chats periodically with his pal Rod (Lil Rel Howery), who’s taking care of his dog. Rod’s job as a TSA officer will become surprisingly important. Chris chats with him about the discomfort he feels as the only African American among all these white people — except for Georgina and Walter.
At dinner Chris meets Rose’s drunken and strangely aggressive brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones)), who challenges him to a judo match. When the Armitages learn that Chris smokes, Missy, a psychotherapist, offers to cure him through hypnosis. The teacup she keeps stirring provides shades of Alfred Hitchcock, along with a few MacGuffins like a small closet and a moldy basement. Once Chris is hypnotized, Missy delves into his past. As a child Chris did nothing to help when his mother bled to death from a hit-and-run accident, something he still grieves about.
It turns out that a party has been planned for Rose’s grandfather the next day, and Chris is confronted with more white people with the exception of Logan (Lakeith Stanfield), who attacks Chris. Georgina behaves more and more strangely until Chris mutters, “That bitch is crazy.” Rod provides some comic relief through his use of black lingo and suspicions about all these crazy “white folks” Chris is with.
Writer/director Jordan Peele is best known as half of Comedy Central’s Key & Peele. In this, his debut film, he builds suspense through subtle details. Dean makes a point of showing Chris a photo of his father running with Jesse Owens at the Berlin Olympics. Unable to sleep, Chris turns a teddy bear’s face away from the bed he’s sharing with Rose. More obvious signals of the dangers ahead include a scene of Walter racing through the backyard and nearly crashing into Chris.
Even for those who don’t particularly enjoy the horror genre, “Get Out” is one to see. Brilliantly conceived and tightly constructed, it’s a compelling tale about black anxiety over a predominantly white culture, ramped up to horror level.
Information and tickets are available for “Get Out” and other films playing at the Film Center at mvfilmsociety.com.