In the upcoming film “Get Out,” a young black man, Chris, pays his first visit to his white girlfriend’s parents. The Armitages turn out to be wealthy liberal types, very friendly, staunch Obama supporters. If anything, Chris suspects the Armitages like him a little too much. It’s almost as though they want to . . . keep him.
Is “Get Out,” which arrives in theaters Feb. 24, a comedy? Its writer and director is Jordan Peele, who with Keegan-Michael Key created the Comedy Central show “Key & Peele,” which pushed many an ethnically sensitive button over five seasons. “Get Out” might sound like one of their sketches, but it’s actually a horror movie produced by Blumhouse, the studio known for such low-budget horror hits as “Paranormal Activity,” “Insidious” and “The Purge.”
“I think of the two genres as being very linked,” the comedian-turned-horror-director said in a recent interview. “You’re looking for visceral, audible reactions, and part of that art form is the ability to subvert what the audience thinks is going on.”
Peele wrote “Get Out” eight years ago after ending his stint on the “Mad TV” series. He was inspired by “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Stepford Wives,” he said, and wanted his film to do for blacks what those films did for women — address deep-seated fears. “For anybody who’s ever been in a situation where you feel like the sole other in an environment, there’s a kind of horror to it,” Peele said. Given the near-total absence of horror films with leading black roles, however, “It was a movie I never thought would get made,” he said.
Nevertheless, when Blumhouse founder Jason Blum read the script two years ago, he was hooked. “I’d just never read anything like it,” Blum said. “If nobody can find a comp for a movie” — meaning a comparable project that’s been made before — “I’m always intrigued by that.”
Starring Daniel Kaluuya as Chris, Allison Williams (HBO’s “Girls”) as his girlfriend and Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford as the Armitages, “Get Out” played a midnight screening at Sundance last month and became a critical hit. Variety praised it for “blending race-savvy satire with horror to especially potent effect.”
Though filmed during the Obama administration, “Get Out” faces release during a time of newly inflamed ethnic tensions in America. That could actually help the movie, according to Peele. “When I first started, race was a topic that nobody really wanted to discuss. We all wanted to feel like we were past it,” he said. “I think the effect that this movie can have right now is giving people a way to discuss race, but also to have fun. First and foremost, this is about entertaining people.”