Jordan Peele’s horror debut Get Out looks suitably terrifying

The comedic and the macabre are often two sides of the same coin. It’s a recurring thread in Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele’s beloved sketch comedy series Key & Peele, and we can see threads of it here in Peele’s first formal foray into the horror genre, Get Out.

If you crossed Look Who’s Coming to Dinner with The Stepford Wives (the originals; not the remakes), you’d approach something like the set-up for Get Out, in which a young black man travels to the rich white suburbs to meet his girlfriend’s family — and finds the locals are violently particular about who gets let into their little community. This isn’t a feel-good piece for white liberals to feel placated about the state of social progress; it’s about how much fear and anger continues to foment beneath the surface of so-called ‘normal’ people. If the early scene with the police officer asking our protagonist (Daniel Kaluuya) for his driver’s license doesn’t immediately set you on edge, I don’t know what to tell you. You must not have been reading the news these last few years.

Get Out‘s premise reminds me of Akira Thompson’s &maybetheywontkillyou, a live-action game experience in which players are placed in the same situation as one of countless Sandra Blands and Michael Browns who are forced to navigate a racist system where even the most benign encounter with law enforcement can turn out deadly. Thompson — a personal friend met through our past work together at IndieCade — told Boing Boing last year that the game’s system “is designed to do what I believe our current system does. [It] pushes the victim of discrimination into a place in which they are not allowed to even speak about their injustice. Speaking up may mean that what you are saying is seen as a threat or challenge.”

Films, like games, are a powerful vehicle for exploring the life experiences of others. Even if Get Out is a work of fiction — even if it’s a schlocky horror film more in the vein of Drag Me to Hell than The Shining — it has great potential to tap into our anxieties of the moment, and the urgent fears experienced by many people of color in particular.

So why on earth is Get Out releasing in February? February is where films go to die — it’s a box office no man’s land after the wave of last year’s Oscar hopefuls has receded and before the spring-summer blockbuster slate starts to pick up. The scheduling betrays a lack of confidence on the part of the film’s distributor, if you ask me: why release a film with such a potent premise when it’s almost guaranteed to underperform, and not (say) here in October, a very scary month before a very scary November election? Someone’s afraid, and not for the reasons our hero in the film is.

Get Out stars Daniel Kaluuya (Sicario), Allison Williams (Girls), and Keith Stanfield (Straight Outta Compton). Head on over to the film’s official Facebook page to learn more.