With his inventive and subversive debut feature Get Out, Jordan Peele accomplishes an increasingly rare feat these days: making a thriller that somehow feels fresh and original. Of course, it has its share of the kind of funny moments that you'd expect from one half of Key & Peele, but what's most impressive is how he cultivates a genuinely creepy and unsettling tone from the seeds of the current racial climate in America, and rarely undermines the sinister aspects of the story by reaching for a cheap joke.
Photographer Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is preparing to meet his girlfriend Rose's (Allison Williams) parents for the first time after dating for five months. He's a little nervous given that he's black and she's white, but she reassures him by saying that her father would have voted for Obama for a third term, "if he could have." Things get off to a rocky start, though, when they hit a deer on the way there — and then only get weirder once they arrive at her parents' lavish estate.
Without revealing too much, the film gets a lot of mileage out of portraying Rose's home and family as more than a little bit odd. Her father (Bradley Whitford) predictably expresses his undying support for Obama right off the bat, her mother (Catherine Keener) seems intent on using her background as a psychiatrist to help Chris quit smoking through hypnosis, and her brother (Caleb Landry Jones) establishes his dominance by practically insisting on wrestling with Chris. And what to make of the two black servants (Betty Gabriel and Marcus Henderson) working around the house who seem as if they might just be from another planet?
As the sense of menace begins to escalate within the house, we get some expertly executed jump scares, along with mounting evidence that something may be seriously wrong with this family, even if we — and Chris — can't quite put our finger on what exactly that is. Meanwhile, Chris's friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery), a TSA agent who has been tasked with watching his dog while he's away, provides the kind of intermittent comic relief that suggests Peele wants to lean on his sketch comedy roots as a bit of a crutch; then, Rod slowly starts to realize that Chris may be in danger.
Peele, serving as both writer and director, takes great pleasure in only slowly revealing what's really going on, making us hang on every portentous word and subtle foreboding action as if it might finally start to unravel the mystery surrounding the family and their uncomfortable home. He paints the perfect nightmarish scenario of meeting the parents of a significant other for the first time, one that's only exacerbated by being a black man surrounded by a growing group of weird, upper-crust white Liberals intent on pandering to Chris in subtly racist ways.
When all of the tension that's been steadily building finally pays off, it offers satisfying (and mostly unpredictable) answers that are an extension of the most ugly chapters of America's troubled history with race. While most horror films are littered with gratuitous violence that offers only the basest of pleasures, this one earns its mayhem, and even has you practically rooting for certain people to die in as horrific fashion as possible.
Get Out is not only sure to be one of the best horror films of the year; it's likely to be one of 2017's best films, period. (Universal)