Review: ‘Get Out’ supremely competent

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8/10 — They gave half of sketch comedy duo Key & Peele a movie — and it’s a psychological thriller? “Get Out” of here!

When Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) drives up to the country with his girlfriend, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), things go wrong immediately. Her family — father Dean (Bradley Whitford), mother Missy (Catherine Keener) and brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) — are clearly uncomfortable around her black boyfriend, and it soon becomes apparent the entire town is as well. Additionally, the black members of the community seem strange and off-kilter. As Washington tries to impress his girlfriend’s family, he is exposed to the town’s sinister inner workings.

“Get Out” is a sparkling showing, particularly for a first-time director. Technically, it’s always competent and often impressive. It’s a 103-minute long series of smart filmmaking decisions. From the writing angle, the dialogue pops and the characters feel realistic. The entire cast is stellar, with particular praise earned by Kaluuya in his first leading role and Keener as a prairie-home witch.

The most exciting element of “Get Out” was always going to be who made it. Writer/director/producer Jordan Peele, along with Keegan-Michael Key, starred on the massively popular Comedy Central sketch show “Key & Peele,” a show that was limited to five seasons because its stars were getting so many opportunities to climb the ladder. The duo teamed up with series director Peter Atencio to make “Keanu” last April, but this is the first real branching out, the first use of that popularity to do what one of them really wanted. This is Peele’s unadulterated vision, and it’s exhilarating to see him getting an opportunity and knocking it out of the park like this.

At first, it was surprising to see horror as the first genre he tackles, but “Get Out” isn’t a particularly scary movie. It’s tense and uncomfortable, but the kinds of trippy elements that were advertised are kept to a minimum and pretty tame when they do come up. The whole movie is pretty tame — its language earns an R rating in the first scene, but that only takes two f-bombs. There’s some fairly harsh gore later, but nothing too disturbing. Maybe this movie wasn’t meant to horrify, and really would look better when viewed through a more sarcastic lens.

Peele said the concept for “Get Out” had been rolling around in his head since early 2009, when several were proclaiming that racism had ended with Barack Obama’s inauguration. Obviously, this was not the case, and racial tensions have dramatically intensified in the years since. The result of going back to that idea now is a movie that is racially charged, but not really in line with the current national anxiety surrounding black Americans, which is more about murder by state officials now than erasure by assimilation. I was expecting it to have some pretty ragged edges, and if it were released a year and a half into Obama’s presidency it might have, but time and the news cycle shifting to more severe topics have dulled them.

Still, most of its tension comes from racial friction. Black characters — the ones who aren’t under some kind of spell — have a savvy to them, detecting potentially fractious situations and immediately turning the other direction. The white characters rush right in to try and prove they’re comfortable, making everyone uncomfortable in the process. “Get Out” forces the viewer to experience this interaction from a black man’s perspective.

“Get Out” plays things remarkably safe with both its scares and racial divisiveness, definitely not the explosive movie of the moment I was anticipating. Guess I’ll have to settle for a well-crafted, pleasant-to-watch start to a bonafide genius’ directing career.

For more, be sure to check out Knopp’s blog at reelentropy.com.