When your car hits an animal along the way, it’s best to turn around and forget about reaching your destination. That has been a motif in films such as “The Invitation” (2o15), the recent “A Cure for Wellness,” and now “Get Out,” the feature debut of Jordan Peele (of Comedy Central’s “Key and Peele”). It is not only the best horror film since “Under the Skin” (2013), but a subversive and often hilarious commentary on race as well.
We’ve come a long way from “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” (1967) but Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a talented photographer, is still pretty nervous about visiting the parents of his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) without letting them know he’s black. “They’re not racist,” she reassures him. “My father says that he’d vote for Obama if he ran for a third term.”
Chris’s misgivings don’t improve after he and Rose arrive at the family estate, an opulent property tended by an African-American housekeeper and gardener who are somehow both zomboid and haughtily facetious. Rose’s father Dean (Bradley Whitford), a neurosurgeon, tries too hard to be cool with black people, but her mother Missy (Catherine Keener), a hypnotherapist, intercedes to tone down the glad-handing patriarch. Richard Herd as Rose’s drunken brother Roman almost spoils the welcoming dinner — and the movie — by what seems to be an attempt to imitate Christopher Walken in “Annie Hall” (1977).
This is just the entrée, though. The full course comes the next day as party guests show up in what looks like a secret service motorcade of black limos and SUVs. They are all elderly, white, and wealthy, and they unctuously flatter Chris with what they think are positive racial stereotypes. All except one, that is: a youngish black man with a plummy Ivy League accent whom Chris vaguely seems to recognize and who, momentarily, freaks out,
Even without the diabolical and expertly derivative thriller that Peele develops, these preliminary scenes drive home the message of exploitation and entitlement. The awkwardness felt by Chris in these social occasions and the heedless boorishness of the hosts and other guests should offer a shock of recognition to black and white viewers alike. This awkward tension is so thick that the expertly executed horror conventions — creepy masked assailants; tiny doorways leading to secrets; scary figures passing quickly in the background; occasional, sudden, subtle gore — at times provide comic relief, though none top the comedic brilliance of Lil Rel Howery as Rod, Chris’s best friend and the pride of the TSA.
Written and directed by Jordan Peele. Starring Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Richard Herd. At Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs. 105 minutes. R (violence, bloody images, and language including sexual references).