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Post racial comedy of manners

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FILM REVIEW: Black man in white nightmare: Jordan Peele's directorial debut Get Out

Get Out (15)
Running time 1hr 44mins
Rating: ****

THE work of Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key is significantly better-known stateside, though the miracle of YouTube has ensured their comedy a small, mostly teenaged European audience. Their award-winning sketches put an irreverent bent on US racial politics and hot-button social issues; highlights of the (now-defunct) show included a war vet-turned-substitute teacher and Barack Obama’s ‘anger translator’. The announcement of Get Out, Peele’s directorial debut, suggested that one half of the duo was ready to take the show’s signature silliness to the multiplex. The film is, in fact, a very different beast, an unsettling and highly relevant shocker that finds Peele at his most uncompromising and versatile.

Get Out defies straightforward categorisation – while there is comedy, it’s the furthest thing from the broad chutzpah of Key & Peele, served up with a bareknuckle frankness that will no doubt
traumatise many viewers. More than anything, it’s a startlingly ODD picture, a mash-up of satire, bloodsploitation, Hitchcockian suspense and offbeat Kevin Smith-esque fare. Initially, the movie sets us up for an observational domestic drama, a latter-day Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, as Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), an African-American photographer, accompanies his white girlfriend (Allison Williams) to the abode of her parents. The family’s home life is a slice of liberal idyll, with a psychiatrist mother (Catherine Keener) and a father (Bradley Whitford) who, in his own words, would’ve voted for Obama a third time, though there’s something up with the all-black ground staff, and with Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones), the trainee surgeon son…

The premise of Get Out has an edge over many recent race-themed screen efforts (even – dare we say? – one or two of the year’s Oscar nominees), in that its commentary is never anything but unique. This WASP-y, frequently charming clan bear no grudge against black people; if anything, their problems stem from liking them TOO much. Their friends, shipped in for a spectacularly uncomfortable luncheon, look upon Chris as an exotic animal; there are some fist-bitingly awkward sequences, and the tension is applied with surgical precision, as the protagonist’s alienation turns to puzzlement and, eventually, terror. Though there’s material here to appease the gorehounds, it’s far more than the visceral horror-thriller promised by the trailers, an altogether fearless attack upon the myth of the post-racial society.

Having mostly settled for jump-scares, the movie’s final act takes a turn into absurd, bloody carnage. One might be hard-pressed to believe that anybody, least of all a first-time filmmaker with a background in Interweb-friendly farce, could carry this 21st-century comedy of manners in such a demented direction, but it all fits together solidly, taking its time on the characters and milking every little detail (a run-in with the police, a ‘quiet’ family dinner) for its full potential. There are personal touches here that will no doubt reward repeat viewing, and it’s a strikingly original, very funny, exceedingly creepy piece of work – Peele has established himself, there can be no doubt, as a talent to watch.

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