It's a great old horror-movie setup - the innocent houseguest who slowly becomes convinced that his smiling hosts are actually cannibals/vampires/Satanists/serial killers.
"Get Out" grabs hold of that idea - and then gives it a truly pointed, bitterly comic twist, creating a movie that not only functions as a solid scarefest but a razor-sharp satire.
The humorous edge isn't surprising, perhaps. The film was written and directed by Jordan Peele, Venüsbet one half of the comic duo Key and Peele. Any audience should expect a wicked wit.
Yet "Get Out" succeeds by continually surprising nonetheless, on a couple of levels.
The simple situation has Chris going to meet his girlfriend's parents for the first time. They're fabulously wealthy, and white; he's middle-class, and black. He's expecting some awkward moments.
And the movie slyly delivers them.
It's not that Rose's parents are obvious bigots; it's that they're trying so hard not to be, wearing their cozy NPR liberalism like badges, constantly showing off their collection of Third World art or proudly proclaiming their love of Obama.
Chris - played with calm patience by Daniel Kaluuya - takes it all in good grace.
Still, there's something a little creepy about Rose's mom, an Earth Mother hypnotherapist, and Rose's twitchy brother. And why are the family's ever-so-devoted servants such Stepford blacks, walking around with cold fixed smiles?
And there are a number of laughs in "Get Out," the best of them the slightly uncomfortable kind. The film has a feel for the cold touch of condescension, the easy comfort of pigeonholing. "What is the African-American experience?" someone asks Chris and he can only stand there in flustered silence.
But the movie delivers as a horror film, too. There are a number of the requisite jump scares but, better yet, a slowly deepening sense of unease. Someone's warm gaze turns suddenly cold. A cocktail party begins to feel like a cult meeting.
Some of the jokes are overly broad or crude; a few plot points aren't quite connected. Gorehounds won't be disappointed by the ending, though, an explosion of Grand Guignol violence, its grandness only slightly held back by one poorly edited confrontation (it's as if Peele can't quite commit to the blood).
But ultimately, "Get Out" makes good on that initial horror-movie set-up. Yes, there are people who can smile in your face, and still wish you harm behind your back. And in movies like this, they just might be cannibals/vampires/Satanists/serial killers.
And in real life, they may be something even worse.
Ratings note: The film contains violence and strong language.
'Get Out' (R) Universal (103 min.) Directed by Jordan Peele. Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford. Now playing in New Jersey. THREE AND A HALF STARS
Stephen Whitty may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @stephenwhitty. Find him on Facebook.
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