A Satire’s Ghoulish Grin

“Anatomy of a Scene: Get Out.”
Jordan Peele, right, the writer and director of “Get Out,” joined Allison Williams and Daniel Kaluuya, the hit movie’s actors, on the red carpet at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor on Sunday. Judy D’Mello

It is amazing how many people (especially women) chose not to see the extraordinary hit “Get Out” because it was billed as a horror movie. It was so much more. Still, skittish viewers notwithstanding, Jordan Peele’s film grossed more than $200 million worldwide from a $4.5 million budget, making it 2017’s most profitable movie. 

It was remarkable for lots of reasons: A debut film from a cult comedian, with no big-name stars and a premise that wove suspense, humor, and horror while making a hard-hitting political statement about liberal America. 

Mr. Peele surely knows a thing or two about timing. The movie was released in the middle of a ghastly state of the world in 2017, when unabashed racism was rearing its head in various grotesque shapes. Consequently, “Get Out” came to represent wonderful, thought-provoking cinema.

One of the highlights of this year’s Hamptons International Film Festival was a discussion on Sunday evening at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor called “Anatomy of a Scene: Get Out.” Moderated by Eric Kohn, the deputy editor for IndieWire and chairman of the New York Film Critics Circle, the panel included Mr. Peele, the film’s two producers, Sean McKittrick and Jason Blum, and its standout young stars, Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams.

And there was so much to discuss: the taboo of mixed relationships, eugenics, slavery, black dudes dying first in horror films, liberals, racism, and police brutality. Five scenes were shown, and the ensemble dissected each. In a packed house, a show of hands determined that most had seen the film.

Mr. Peele likened the setting of his creepy movie to a place: “Well‚ like here,” hinting at the white liberal Hamptons enclave and the marginalized minorities that lie behind its genteel facade, as well as “the lie that is post-racial America,” as he calls the covert racism still very much present throughout the country. The laughter that followed was robust but struck a raw nerve.

“Get Out” is all about nerve-shredding. Like a thorny yet amusing fusion of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” “The Stepford Wives,” and “Rosemary’s Baby,” the film follows Chris (Mr. Kaluuya), a successful black photographer who travels with his white girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), for a meet-the-parents weekend at their rural estate, where Chris’s initial anxieties about the trip prove to be more than justified.

The panel discussed one of the movie’s pivotal scenes, involving a performance that demanded a lot from Mr. Kaluuya as he was being forcibly separated from reality through hypnosis at the hands of his potential mother-in-law, played terrifyingly by Catherine Keener. She sends Chris disappearing through the floor into a dark netherworld called “the sunken place.” Mr. Kaluuya’s performance is pitch perfect, particularly as it requires him to mine searing emotions as he recalls the death of his character’s mother in a hit-and-run incident.

To some in the audience, Mr. Kaluuya’s charming North London street accent came as a surprise (but not to this writer, who grew up in the same corner of London). The 27-year-old, recently listed among Variety’s top actors to watch in 2017, proved to be as affable in person as he is on screen, explaining the depths he needed to reach in order to deliver the right performance. “I had to think about something uncomfortable, like meeting the in-laws,” he said. “And then going into spaces that haven’t yet healed.”

Mr. Peele said that after watching Mr. Kaluuya in an episode of the British science-fiction anthology series “Black Mirror” he immediately hired the British-born son of Ugandan immigrants.

Ms. Williams, another newcomer to the big screen, takes her character, Rose, through a remarkable transformation from sweet, liberal white girl to something entirely villainous. In order to achieve that darkness in the scenes after her character has completely revealed the depths of her evil, Ms. Williams explained, she had to close herself off, isolating herself from actors she had grown close to during production. 

“She wouldn’t even talk to me,” Mr. Kaluuya said.

“I liked you too much,” she responded. “I would have said, ‘Let’s keep you alive.’ ”

According to Mr. Peele, the psychotic transformation of Rose’s character was so perfect it became known as her “Ro-Ro character.”

The “Get Out” discussion proved that on the East End, as it does around the world, themes of the American nightmare resonate perfectly — and amusingly — with the times and an audience tickled by perceptive wit.