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.

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