It is the sacred & holy right of genre films to be much, much better at addressing the social problems that plague the world than serious-minded sober dramas. Has been as long as there's been movies, really. There are a couple of reasons for that, I think: one is that a movie which is content to layer its social message out of plain side, inside the bangs and bumps and thrills of a horror movie or a sci-fi epic or what have you is almost by definition one that trusts our intelligence more than one that has the characters baldly ventriloquise the Very Important Themes, and who doesn't prefer a movie that trusts our intelligence? Another is that there's something inherently pedantic and patronising about movies that want to enlighten us, or whatever, and some ripe genre nonsense is exactly the right spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.

All of which is prefatory to me claiming that the Blumhouse Productions horror-thriller Get Out is the most interesting movie about race in America in a really long time. I'm not expert enough to say if that makes it "the best", though I'd take one film like this over a hundred aesthetically flat-footed, tepid crowd-pleasers like Hidden Figures. And it's not like Get Out puts any effort into hiding what it's doing: almost the first conversation in the movie (after a prologue that tips the film's hand just a wee bit too much about where it's heading) is between Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya, giving one hell of a "star is born" performance), who is black, and his girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), who is white, on the subject of whether her very liberal-but-in-that-unexamined-rich-people-way parents (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford, the latter the most intuitively perfect piece of casting this role could ever hope for) will flip their shit when she brings him home for the first time in their five-month relationship. Basically, it's Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, only with the addition of brainwashing and kidnapping, which I for one consider to be an unambiguous step or two in the right direction.

The films is the brainchild of Jordan Peele, making his directorial debut, and it feels weirdly correct that this is where his career has arrived. Though he has been, to date, known entirely for comedy, Peele's work till now has been littered with racially-charged miniature genre riffs, a regular feature of his old sketch comedy show Key and Peele. For that matter, last year's Keanu, which Peele starred in and co-wrote, is a racially-charged genre riff, though unlike Get Out, Keanu is a comedy from head to tail. There is, to be sure, comedy nudged into Get Out, largely in the form of Rod Williams (Lil Rel Howery), Chris's good friend, a TSA agent, and fixedly paranoiac at the idea that upper class white people harbor the secret desire to yoke all black people into sex slavery. Not only here, though. Without ever once breaking the dignity of his film or undercutting its essentially serious attitude about essentially serious topics, Peele does fine work of conceding that, after, this is all somewhat enormously goofy, and we would do best to have fun with it. It's a thin line to walk, and Get Out has its wobbles here and there, but it's clearly a horror movie made by a horror movie fan, one who's overjoyed to give all the rest of us horror fans a fun ride that that's both tense and a little bit amused at the overheated folderol it's presenting. And all while doubling as a smart, concise diagnostic of Racism In America, circa 2017.

The center, alas, does not hold. Like many and many a horror film before it, Get Out thrives when it can leave us at least somewhat in the dark, and starts to trip over its own feet once we know everything. Although I think it's more a coincidence of timing - it's not so much what we learn about the smiling Armitages and the cringe-inducing attempts at being progressive in a showy way, as how the film handles what we learn. Frankly, it doesn't take much to figure out where Get Out is going rather a long way before we get there, even more so if you saw the appallingly spoilery trailers; honestly, by the time we actually get to the big reveal, the only mystery that actually remains is the largely minor matter of one character's specific loyalties. That's not really the point of it, though; the film is mostly fueled by suspense, not terror, and suspense is only augmented by the audience's surplus of knowledge.

That being said, the film's last phase is pretty dire, for at least a couple of different reasons. One is that, right at the moment that the scenario grows most florid and ridiculous, Peele's sense of humor gives out on him. The end of Get Out is played entirely straight, a disappointing shift from the genial self-amusement of so much of the earlier parts of the movie, and a terrible development in the face of the ripe melodrama that crops up. What we get instead is a pretty straightforward '10s horror movie third act: the perfunctory staging of a horrifyingly austere death chamber, the hero escapes through an eruption of bloody violence, and various characters keep popping up in frame like slasher villains to maximise shock in dopey ways. For such a brilliantly smart movie, it's a little heartbreaking how damn dumb Get Out starts to be. (There's a much smaller problem with the third act that I could barely even describe without giving the game away; let's just say that one actor, whose performance has been lively throughout, turns into a painfully bland merciless bad guy, and their performance goes all to hell. The hair and makeup department aren't helping matters).

But let us not hold the third act against Get Out too much. Horror movies have bad third acts all the time; the hope is that they have two first acts that are this good, with such an excellent anchor as Kaluuya, whose sense of self-amused discomfort slowly giving away to actual fear provides the movie with its spine, and who is outrageously good at pacing out his reaction shots (some of that, of course, is the editing, but not all). There's a little bit of stiffness in Peele's direction every now and then (he lets an awkward, creepy garden party move by too slowly), but certainly no more so than you'd expect from a first-timer, and there are some utterly splendid patches as well, such as a dialogue between Chris and the Armitage's housekeeper, Georgina (Betty Gabriel) that uses close-ups in a phenomenally sophisticated way to ramp up the viewer's feeling of almost physical discomfort with the scene. It's a damn solid movie that has just enough shortcomings for me to be extremely excited to see Peele outdo himself next time around.