Meeting the parents gets creepy and deeply dangerous in “Get Out”

Jordan Peele may be more known as a comedic personality, being a MADtv alumnus and one-half (with Keegan-Michael Key) of the Key & Peele comedy team, but he has adeptly stepped into the horror realm with his directorial debut, “Get Out.”

Peele has taken an already frightening prospect — a young man meeting his girlfriend’s parents — and injected racial tension and some horrifying ulterior motives into the mix and come up with a very smart and creepy thriller in “Get Out.”

Peele said in an interview he has been a fan of horror since childhood, when he would watch scary movies in the middle of the night while his mother slept. Around 2009 he began formulating the idea that would lead to “Get Out,” speculating on what a thriller version of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” would be like. This classic and award-winning 1967 movie is about how a liberal white couple (Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn) react when their daughter introduces them to her fiance, an African American (Sidney Portier). Rather than doing a rehash of this, Peele wanted to inject the fear of being an outsider in any situation and a feeling that something sinister might be going on.

So: Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), a young black man who’s been in a relationship with a white woman, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams from “Girls”), for four months, agrees to spend a weekend at her folks’ house. She brushes off his concerns that she has not informed her parents Chris is black, assuring him that they are not racist.

Meanwhile, Chris’ best friend Rod Williams (a scene-stealing LilRel Howery), a TSA employee, warns him this visiting-the-parents thing could  lead to trouble.

When they arrive at the house, the young people are greeted by the parents, Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener), who show no signs of being shocked that Chris is black. Indeed they embrace him, although Missy expresses her disapproval of his smoking habit. A psychiatrist, Missy insists she can cure Chris of his smoking habit via hypnosis, an offer he respectfully declines.

With Dean being a doctor, the Armitage household is definitely an upper-tier display of being comfortably well off. It is also pretty secluded, which of course is a red flag in the horror genre.

The Armitages also have two black people working for them, a gardener named Walter (Marcus Henderson) and a housekeeper, Georgina (Betty Gabriel). Dean tells Chris this is not what it looks like — Walter and Georgina had been hired to care after Dean’s aged parents and after the elderly people died, Dean just did not have the heart to let them go, thus kept them on.

Chris seems to accept this, but he finds himself being increasingly disturbed by the behavior of Georgina and Walter. Peele admitted he injected some “Stepford Wives” sentiment into “Get Out,” and the two employees of the Armitages do seem a little too blissfully content and robotic, as if brainwashes or programmed. When Chris broaches to Georgina the subject of being stuck  into a subservient situation, her reaction is one of reproach.

Unable to sleep that first night, Chris steps outside, but upon returning inside he encounters Missy, who invites him to sit and chat. She starts asking probing questions, tapping into memories he does not want to bring up.  It is all a ploy on Missy’s part.

Haunted by his chat with Missy, Chris has another issue to deal with — the Armitage’s are having what is an annual event, inviting friends for a day-long soiree. Once these people arrive, Chris is subjected to pandering, which he can absorb politely, but then he has an unnerving encounter with one of the guests, the only other black person in attendance.

Chris has phone conversations with Rod, who grows increasingly concerned as Chris relates the strange things occurring at the Armitage home. This motivates Rod to do some investigating.

Peele’s script unfolds in a way that offers hints as to what is going on, and succeeds at a revelation that packs a wallop. One can only hope that Chris can summon of that Final Girl resourcefulness necessary for his survival.

Kaluuya delivers a stellar performance as a man who is accustomed to dealing with racism but soon grows baffled and increasingly alarmed at creepy incidents unfolding around him. As Rod, Howery provides the humor but steps up in the clutch when things seem to be going bad for his buddy.

It is Gabriel as Georgina who really ratchets up the creepy factor. Even though she putters around dispassionately with quiet efficiency (for the most part), something about her just screams: I am not right and the scariest aspect is that I don’t care I’m not right.

“Get Out” is one of those movies that does not hammer the viewers with scares. It simply and quietly taps into paranoia and foreboding. It is quite effective and unsettling, the way a horror movie should be.

Internet stardom goes horribly awry in “Truth or Dare”

Naturally, with a film titled “Truth or Dare” there comes the challenge: I DARE you to watch it. That should serve as ample warning that this little film is not for those who tend to react squeamishly to onscreen violence.

There’s horror, and there’s HORROR. “Truth or Dare” is HORROR.

These are exciting times in the world of scary movies in that women are making their mark in the genre as writers, producers and directors of horror films. Among them is Jessica Cameron, who co-wrote, with Jonathan Scott Higgins, and directed “Truth or Dare” and took it on a successful worldwide tour of festivals in which the movie garnered 19 awards. Among the prizes were the Best Horror Feature at the Arizona Underground Film Festival, Best Feature at the Calgary Horror Con, the Jury Award at the Macabre Faire Film Festival, and three awards at the Shockfest Film Festival: Best Actor to Ryan Kiser and Best Director and Best Actress to Cameron.

Following this kudos-laden global exposure, the film took awhile to get distribution into other platforms (it was made in 2013). Offers to release it in DVD would come with the compromise of cutting its more brutal scenes. But Cameron held firm and finally it has been released on DVD in its raw, uncut form.

For those who waited anxiously for this, the patience has paid off. In a wonderfully gruesome way.

It is an understatement to call “Truth or Dare” a cautionary tale, presenting a terrifying story of the dark, vicious underbelly of fame delivered at the hands of social media. Those who covet accelerated online traffic may have to deal with not only the relatively sane fans, but the downright demented ones as well.

Six college students — three couples actually — have hit the jackpot with their “Truth or Dare” video streams that offer a violent twist. They especially draw attention when one of them, Tony (Brandon Van Vliet) may have been fatally shot by fellow Truth or Daredevil Jennifer (Cameron). The group subsequently appears on a talk show and brings out Tony to show he really was not killed.

In the audience at the talk show is a self-professed No. 1 fan of the “Truth or Dare” videos, Derik (Kiser, who also stars as Charles Manson in “House of Manson”). When he makes a scene in trying to be recruited into the group, he is banished from the building.

Later, the group reconvenes at a secluded home purchased by John (Jesse Wilson), who has set up a studio in which to video the next episodes of their show. Aside from John, Jennifer and Tony, the group includes John’s girlfriend Courtney (Devanny Pinn, so chilling  as Susan Atkins in “House of Manson”), Tony’s girlfriend Michelle (Heather Dorff) and Jennifer’s boyfriend Ray (Shelby Stehlin).

Just as the Truth or Daredevils begin to work on their next show, who should crash in on them but their No. 1 fan, Derik. Armed and certainly dangerous, Derik gets the upper hand and demands that they continue their “Truth or Dare” game, but under his rules.

With one member of the group already “out of the game” (in other words, no longer breathing), the group has no choice but to concede to Derik’s decrees.

Unfortunately, in Derik’s opinion, the show lacks structure and realism and he believes this cheats the fans.So he is here to fix things.

In the first round of the game, the five remaining Truth or Daredevils opt for truth rather than dares. But this turns ugly.

As in other horror movies in which viewers have to dispense with disbelief and accept that killers like Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger never die despite all the weapons and artillery used on them, “Truth or Dare” at this point forces the viewer to believe that Derik has managed to dig up deep secrets the Truth or Daredevils have been keeping from each other (even their lovers). But this is a risk that is brought up —  suggesting the real dangers of too much personal information being accessible to people who are savvy enough to find and exploit it.

Of course, some of these secrets revealed are pretty bad and it leads to, well, discord among the group members. So naturally in the ensuing rounds they opt for dares rather than truths.

And that’s when it gets really brutal.

You can develop a grudging admiration for Derik’s madness. This guy is focused on his mission. As he says, “Truth or Dare” “belongs to the fans” and it is the obligation of the Truth or Daredevils to give them a bloody good show. Derik’s investment in the show — “You’re not just videos,” he declares, “you’re an inspiration, at least to me” — along with his sick creativity help achieve this goal. Each round gets more brutal. And even if these people survive the dares they are irreparably damaged.

Of the group, Jennifer and Michelle are the gutsiest. Indeed, when Jennifer completes a dare without batting an eye, it seems she might be momentarily getting into the gory spirit of the proceedings. Later Jennifer and Michelle are the only ones to actually attempt to physically derail Derik’s efforts.

Kiser’s Derik is a bundle of nervous, misguided and psychotic energy. He is a tragic figure, wrapping his life around something so trivial as people videotaping fake violence to garner hits on the internet.

The rest of the cast is put through such cringe-worthy punishment, and for all that is revealed about them, the fact that they do not deserve the horror they endure makes “Truth or Dare” an effective and terrifying film. Cameron did a superb job of recruiting dedicated people, beyond the cast, who helped her create this film on a small budget. Credit goes out to Carrie Mercado, the makeup artist and special effects makeup artist, as well as the visual effects team of Aaron M. Lane and Adam Lima. Cameron, outspoken in her disdain for CGI effects, brought on board people who share her enthusiasm for practical special effects.

“Truth or Dare” comes with a warning. This is uncompromising violence and not for the casual horror fans who enjoy films that simply make them jump or feel uneasy. This movie does flat out dare you to watch, and even the most hardcore fans of this genre will find themselves of accelerated heart rates, possibly sweating and shaking, at the conclusion of the film. But then dare yourself NOT to watch it again. You might lose that dare.