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'Get Out' turns contemporary racism into absurdist, comedic nightmare

Jordan Peele is known as one of today's greatest satirists largely because of his role in the comedy duo Key & Peele and their much-adored, dearly-missed sketch show. But who says he can only be funny? In his writing/directing solo debut, "Get Out," Peele crafts a clever satire on race relations that fuses his trademark humor with bone-chilling horror.

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is planning a weekend trip with his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) to visit her parents. The only problem? Missy and Dean (played by Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford) don't know that their daughter's new lover is black. But of course, Rose says, there's nothing to worry about. Her parents aren't racist -- after all, this isn't the 1960s! Dean would've voted for Obama for a third term if he could have, and he'll make sure that Chris knows it.

In cinema, racism tends to be presents in an easily discernable manner: separate bathrooms, slave masters and white hoods. What makes "Get Out" so effective is its examination of subtle things -- mannerisms, tone-deaf comments, changing one's speech patterns to try to "relate"-- and the tense, hostile environment that it creates for a black man or woman in the room.

A standout scene from the film involves a party thrown by Rose's family for their very rich, very old and very white (except for a sole Asian man) peers. At the party, Chris's muscles are fondled, he's told that "black is in fashion" and he's asked to speak on behalf of all African-Americans about the advantages and disadvantages they face in modern society. It's simultaneously laughable and creepy, and all credit goes to Peele for making that dynamic work so well.

Even though situations like these are far from uncommon, their utter existence demonstrates the absurdity of the world -- how did we let it get here? "Get Out" takes that natural absurdity, amplifies it and then distorts it to create a grotesque monster of a story, which involves hypnotism, strange black servants and one creepy-as-hell game of Bingo. In true horror fashion, the movie's major plot reveal can be spotted from a mile away, but Peele's script packs some late-game nuances that are both thought-provoking and terrifying.

Kaluuya has never been better as Chris, no small accomplishment given his powerful performance in an early episode of the anthology series "Black Mirror." Equipped with impressively expressive eyes, he shows the audience his constant discomfort while wearing a polite smile for Missy and Dean, or whoever else is hurling intrusive or insensitive comments his way. The busy plot gives little room for extra characterization, but Kaluuya takes those few moments and works magic.

Another standout is Rod (Lil Rel Howry), Chris's best friend and dog sitter during the weekend trip. He provides nearly all of the humor in the film, and boy, is he funny. Instead of feeling at odds with the terror, his comedy succeeds at relieving some tension, further engaging the viewer and tricking them into letting their guard down before a big scare.

Just when it seems like "Get Out" has showed everything it has to offer, it unleashes all of its mounting suspense in a tumultuous, adrenaline-pumping and straight-up whacko finale. A few more blink-and-you'll-miss-them plot revelations and characterization moments are thrown into the foray that prove Peele's effectiveness as a writer and director. The climax is a physical manifestation of the emotional dread and insanity pervading the second half of the movie.

Once the final credits roll, it may be difficult to process exactly what you just witnessed, but it's obvious that "Get Out" is a revelatory piece of cinema that succeeds where many other films have tried and failed: melding horror and comedy, tackling modern issues of race and successfully satirizing white liberalism without preaching or losing any entertainment value. Any doubt that Peele could succeed without Key is thrown out the window with this explosive gem.

(4.5/5 stars)

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