Horror films are woke, y’all.
That’s not necessarily a new phenomenon. While horror movies are often thought the be the realm of cheap thrills, gratuitous nudity, and terrible acting, there is a tradition in the genre of making film that also tackle social commentary. Night of the Living Dead was certainly informed by the racial tensions of the 1960s, Dawn of the Dead has some thoughts about consumerism, It Follows certainly has been read as part allegory about the dangers of casual sex and/or millennial apathy, and even The Purge reveals elements of socio-economic and racial conflict.
The first time that I saw a trailer for Jordan Peele’s directorial debut Get Out was before a screening for Fences. I was aware that Peele was working on a horror movie, but I had no idea what the concept or plot actually was. When the trailer ended, the racially diverse crowd sat there in awkward silence, not quite sure what they had just witnessed or what it meant. There were a few nervous titters of laughter, but the uncertainty of how to react was practically palpable. People are often uncomfortable talking about race, so a thriller with a premise like Get Out is going to make people squirm (and think) a bit. I resolved then and there that I was going to see Get Out, because if the trailer had that effect, I couldn’t wait to see how provocative the whole movie would be.
The set-up for Get Out is pretty simple: Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) are going upstate so that he can meet her parents for the first time. Chris is slightly apprehensive, as Rose hasn’t told her affluent white family that Chris is black. She assures him that it won’t be an issue –and when Chris first meets Missy (Catherine Keener) and Dean (Bradley Whitford) they almost try too hard to welcome him and show how cool they are with the situation. It’s slightly cringe worthy, but more troubling is the behavior of the family’s black housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson). Chris feels something off about both of them, like they would be more at home in The Stepford Wives. His unease intensifies as he meets more of the friends of Rose’s parents, who are not openly hostile but force Chris to endure a series of microagressions. Is this the passive prejudice of the wealthy liberal elite or is there really something sinister going on here? That’s as much as you should know about the movie going in; half the fun is letting the story slowly reveal itself.
There is a lot going on in Get Out and honestly I’m still unpacking some of it, but I found this movie to be extremely smart and well-done. It’s entertaining and scary; it makes you laugh and it makes you think. Peele has crafted an excellent commentary on race that isn’t too heavy handed or predictable. I didn’t have any idea where this story was going and just when I thought I had things figured out, it zigged when I thought it would zag. The tension and unease is present from the very beginning of the movie and Peele and his actors know how to slowly turn up the heat. Fans of horror will appreciate that Peele plays with some of the tropes of the genre while subverting expectations. He even manages to make Fruit Loops terrifying.
The actors all do a spectacular job in their roles. I was vaguely familiar with Kaluuya from his appearance on an episode of Black Mirror, and he’s really a revelation in this role. As Chris struggles to determine whether his paranoia is from generally being uncomfortable with the situation or because he is actually in peril, the viewer feels his uncertainty and is instantly sympathetic. His performance may have briefly made me think “seriously, what is up with these white people?” – a question that I don’t normally find myself having to consider given my race. This is also pretty much the perfect role for Williams and plays into every preconception that people probably have about her from her depiction of Marnie of Girls. As Chris’ wise-cracking, TSA agent pal, comedian Lil Rey Howery provides some much needed comic relief.
There is a moment at the end of Get Out that proves just how effective this movie is. I won’t spoil it, but it serves as an important reminder that some of the scariest things out there are not the boogeyman or a super-powered serial killer, but grounded in reality. I saw Get Out almost a week ago and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. In my very limited downtime, I find myself Googling reviews and analysis about the movie to get different perspectives and to see how different people interpreted the movie. It’s not often that a horror movie prompts that kind of self-imposed homework, but as I peel back more layers of the symbolism, the movie just gets more fascinating. Plus it’s just a damn entertaining film. Even if you don’t typically like horror movies or thrillers, this is one to see.
Get Out is currently showing nationwide.