I’m not often a purveyor of horror, particularly modern horror. I’ve too often find the writing lazy, and the film more of a jump-scare filled cash grab from the studio, to a built-in audience sure to come out for the scares in drove. But a few years ago, a little Australian film called The Babadook blew my socks clean off. Since then I’ve kept my eye out, and there’s been much chatter about the horror genre in particular. So in preparation for this film I asked a few more horror-inclined friends for the decent, recent hits. The Witch, Don’t Breathe and Lights Out were at the top of a lot of people’s lists. As were Insidious (Chapters one and two, not three), and The Conjuring (again, one and two). These films (with the exception of Insidious. Sorry, just wasn’t quite my cup of tea) is part of why I was so excited for Get Out. The other part, is Jordan Peele.
Get Out is the directorial feature debut of Jordan Peele. A new director on the scene always presents an exciting opportunity, but to further this, Peele is one half of the comedy due Key and Peele. Film fans will know them from 2016’s Keanu, whilst everybody else on the internet and with access to the comedy channel will know the pair from their hilarious sketch work (seriously, these guys are really funny). So when one half of the famed comedy duo step into the director’s shoes of a horror film exploring racial themes and comes out of Sundance with a 99% – A FRIGGEN 99% on Rotten Tomatoes? My expectations are a tad high. Just a tad.
There’s definitely a unique connection between horror and comedy. I can’t quite put my finger on where it is, they’re both really raw, impulsive responses (I’m sure there’s a dozen journal articles and academic books that explore that topic better than I can in the limited space of an online article) but it’s there. It’s why we laugh after we get scared. One of Get Out’s major strengths is playing between these two sides, comedy and horror, spectacularly well. I’m not going to say Get Out is the scariest of recent horror, in fact I would go so far as to highlight Get Out’s attempts at your standard, horror-trope, jump scares as one of the film’s weaker point. But that’s not why I’m here, Get Out knows the genre, Peele clearly knows his horror, and he’s tapped into the African American market and matched it with a genre that really hits home.
The premise of Get Out is fairly well established in the marketing material: a black guy, Daniel Kaluuya (Sicario, Kick-Ass 2), with a white girlfriend, Allison Williams (Girls) goes to visit his girlfriend’s family: Catherine Keener (The 40-year-old Virgin, Being John Malkovich), Bradley Whitford (The West Wing, Transparent, The Cabin in the Woods), and Caleb Landry Jones (Contraband, X-Men First Class) and weird stuff starts happening. The best friend LilRey Howery (The Carmichael Show, Get A Job) tells our protagonist that other black people have been going missing in the area – and the story ensues from there.
This film explores the issues of race without having to hit you over the head with it. We don’t get some long-winded exposition about white supremacy or any other sort of heavy handed film making. We simply have a black protagonist with a white antagonist and a situation that encourages the audience to draw its own parallels, which in so many ways makes this such a more powerful film than if it had gone the heavier route. Yes, I am a white man watching this film, but I’m not watching a black man struggling through a white lens, I’m watching a black man, an auteur tell a story that’s made for him and his people. To really appreciate this film, I don’t think it can be removed from the African American culture it’s stepped in, and that is where Get Out shines. If you’re watching a horror movie, and you know they shouldn’t go down into the basement – who (stereotypically) is the first character to just openly admit to not wanting to head down into the basement? Usually your side character, comic relief, typical black guy. Well this is a movie, where the main guy doesn’t just walk into the basement. He doesn’t have any false sense of bravado – he makes no stupid moves. I honestly think anyone would react just as he did in his position, and that’s where this film hits you. It’s honest.
It’s not a perfect film, I mentioned before that I think a lot of the scares were fairly signposted which isn’t a good thing when you’re not able to be taken by surprise. On top of that some of the acting and dialogue early on left a bit to be desired, but then there’s possible story elements later which could excuse that, which I can’t get into for fear of spoilers.
But for a directorial debut, this really is a great little film. Furthermore, with rumours circulating that Peele was being eyed for large franchises like the live-action Akira adaptation, but instead chose to focus on the smaller budget, more story-focused work he’s been doing with Blumhouse, says a lot about the calibre of artist Peele is.
Get Out is most definitely worth “getting out” to see (puns, haha), but what excites me more is where it points to, in the future. Jordan Peele is going to be a name to keep an eye on, and with a growing trend in Hollywood for smaller, independent film directors to be snatched up into large franchises without making any middle-of-the-road budget films, Peele’s conscious decision to avoid falling into that trap is an admirable trait. Furthermore, putting a greater emphasis on diversity not only in front of the camera, but also behind, results in more interesting, unique, and relevant stories being told. With big companies like Disney pushing ahead with Ava DuVernay being the first African American woman to direct a film with a budget of over $100mil, and Ryan Coogler helming the Black Panther MCU film, diversity behind the camera is slowly sneaking into the foreground of people’s minds. Finally, horror. Genre. These films are coming back in a big way. With the eight or so major blockbusters this year alone that are superhero flicks, it’s telling that the current record holder for most viewed trailer belongs to Stephen King’s It, due to come out this October. Genre is back. Horror is back, and Get Out is most certainly making waves. Do go see.