There is an old saying, "Dying is Easy. Comedy is Hard" that recently undertaken a deeper meaning with a substantially practical expression. While there has always been a degree of fluidity with performers specializing in a genre of entertainment, action heroes crave an opportunity to tackle a dramatic performance while actors established in thriller will have their agents search for a romantic story. Arguably, the most difficult change to manifest is usually considered from any endeavor into comedy. The corollary to this is traditionally a person who has mastered comedy is well suited for practically any genre of entertainment. In recent years it has been increasingly evident that performers with roots in stand up and sketch comedy are flocking to dramatic roles. More importantly, they are producing award-winning contributions to dramatic stories that would make the most skilled dramatic actors envious. One such comedian is Jordan Peele. Along with his partner, Keegan-Michael Key, the duo, collectively known as Key and Peele, have been making audiences laugh hysterically for over fifteen years. Mr. Peele has written and directed ‘Get Out’ one of the most masterfully crafted horror movies to terrify fans in many years. Watch key and Peele perform on the hysterically irreverent sketch comedy television show, MadTV; it was immediately evident that this pair of comedians belongs in the same exalted ranks as Rowan and Martin and Reiner and Brookes. Younger viewers will inevitably have to pause to consult the oracles of the new millennia, Google and Wikipedia, but those with a greater historical perspective will understand the magnitude of that praise. Corroboration of this can be found in the rare and wonderful reaction to ‘Get Out.’ It has received Academy Award nominations in three major categories, Bes Screenplay, Best Achievement in Direction and Best Picture. It must be noted that this is the second screenplay, first non-comedic, script and production, and Mr. Peele’s freshman opus as director. The depth and scope of this man’s talent are far beyond anything implied by the best-known aspect of his career.
In 1967 the film ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ sent shock waves through the predominant zeitgeist. It explored the controversially charged theme of inter-racial relationships when a young white woman brought her African American boyfriend to meet her unsuspecting parents. Although prejudice concerning such racially heterogeneous relationships continues, it is no longer the culture shock as it was over fifty years ago. At least bigots have become more adept at euphemistically concealing their hatred. One element contributing to the superior construction of this film it how it revisits this theme half a century later. Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), is in a serious relationship with Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), a photographer. It has reached the juncture that she wants to introduce him to her parents, Dean (Bradley Whitford), a neurosurgeon and Missy (Catherine Keener), a clinical hypnotherapist. They live on an estate in a wooden area removed from most modern conveniences. As they approached the family home, Rose hits a deer, dutifully reporting the incident to the authorities. Even though Rose was behind the wheel, the white police officer demand identification from Chris, obviously a racially motivated display of superiority. Rose does manage to diffuse the situation, but to Chris the message is clear, this is not a socially progressive community. Chris’ discomfort doesn’t abate upon arriving at the Armitage home. It is obvious that the household staff are all black conveying to Chris the atmosphere of an antebellum plantation. Such a feeling could be explained as secondary to his apprehension of meeting Rose’s parents, something very relatable to most people. Circumstances like this infused in the foundation of the story are indicative of the pervasive genius of this film. As a comedian, Mr. Peele has honed an extraordinary insight into the human condition. His humor succeeded largely because of his penchant for making a ridiculous set of circumstance from the mundane. Within the context of this story, this filmmaker displayed an amazing acumen regarding this new expression of his craft. There is nothing unusual for an African American to explore black issues in their movies. The difference in this instance must be considered through the prism of the insight of humanity afforded through a lifetime of discovering the broad range of the human experience. Creating comedy of from the triumphs and foibles intrinsically part of being human.
From the moment they arrived, Chris hands an unshakable, uneasy feeling about his girlfriend’s family home. This is particularly evident in their interaction with the all black household staff. That night, unable to sleep, Chris steps outside for a smoke. He watches as Walter is running around the grounds as the housekeeper, Georgina (Betty Gabriel), roams through the house. Returning to the house, Chris encounters Missy who insists she help him quit smoking by hypnotizing him. During the session, Chris reveals portions of his youth that continue to disturb him, most notably the death of his mother in a hit-and-run when he was a child. He still harbors sense guilt over the tragedy. When the trance is broken, Chris is revolted by the sight of a cigarette. In the best tradition of a master level horror story, the audience is given a glimpse of suspicious activities that remain unseen by Chris. Missy unplugs his phone letting the battery drain. She then rationalizes it as an accident. This confirms the extent of the circumstances; Rose’s parents are concealing something of a sinister nature.
That evening the Armitage hosted a soiree inviting many well-established people who just happen to be white. Their observations focused on his physical condition or making s point to mention some famous person of color. Chris is surprised to encounter another black man, Logan King (Lakeith Stanfield), who is married to an older white woman, Philomena (Geraldine Singer). Perplexingly, Logan is also acting strangely. Chris needs some form of validation, so he calls his close friend, Rod Williams (LilRel Howery), an agent in the TSA. While taking a photograph to send to Rod, the flash goes off resulting in a manic outburst from Logan who shouts, "Get Out!" the others restrain him dismissing it as an epileptic seizure. When things settle down, Dean begins the main event of the evening, an auction. Chris tells Rose that he thinks it is best to leave. While packing, Chris notices photographs of Rose with previous boyfriends, all of whom were black. To continue any further synopsis, even as a means of analysis, would veer into spoiler territory. The dénouement of this example of cinematic mastery is so ingeniously crafted that it is best to allow the reader to experience it without any prior knowledge of how it unfolds. So many films, horror, thriller or drama, depend upon a shocking twist or a sudden turn away from the expected. Few can hold together through repeated viewing as well as this amazing movie. Although experiencing the movie subsequent times will lack the intensity of that reveal the entire movie fashioned with such remarkable precision and attention to the minute details that every viewing is certain to disclose nuances previously unnoticed. I have laughed at the comic precision created by Mr. Peele and his partner, Mr. Key for many years in MadTV and their eponymous television series, but now I am impressed by Mr. Key as a filmmaker. This movie has helped to redefine the horror genre bringing a long-lost edge and fresh approach. Hopefully, torture porn horror is waning, and a new age of psychological horror has begun.