HELLO, JORDAN PEELE. WELCOME TO THE NEW INDIE HORROR CANON CLUB.
I’ve noticed a pattern in recent horror flicks – usually, the greatest horror/thriller movies of the year would come out at the start of the year. Last year we had the secretive 10 Cloverfield Lane. In 2015 we had the stellar 1600s New England lore The Witch, and in 2014 we had the unapologetically STD-inspired horror flick It Follows. All of the films (including Get Out) have lots of things in common: all of them are critically acclaimed and directed by first-time/second-time directors. I’ve loved the works of Jordan Peele (especially in his Comedy Central sketch series with Keegan-Michael Key: Key and Peele) and I’ve always thought of him as a comedy man. Once the production for Get Out is announced, I cannot fathom how he would create an effective horror movie. Well.. I came into the theater expecting a horror movie that would scare the bejesus out of me. I didn’t really get what I was expecting, but I got something deeper and more substantial.
Get Out is about Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), an African-American guy with a Caucasian girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams). The couple stayed for the weekend in Rose’s family home, where Chris notices that the neighborhood is predominantly white and the only black people he could find are servants to the white neighborhood. As he continued to stay in the residence – including going through a lunch party hosted by the family – he senses that something is definitely off with the family. The plot turns very complex afterward.
Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) laughing nervously while surrounded by a crowd of old white people; possibly an accurate summary of this film.
The single driving force of this film is Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris. And damn, Daniel Kaluuya is a force of nature. There’s a scene in the movie that started all the weird things and Kaluuya can really get into the skin of his character. The final moments of the movie also show how he can grasp the outcomes of the plot to his character. There’s a small but important subplot about Chris’s past and in one of the scenes, Chris has to face it all over again. Kaluuya makes you empathize to Chris regarding his past. Best of all, you don’t feel like a mere spectator watching this movie; you are drawn to Chris’s reactions, emotions, and way of thinking, and it engages you to the movie as an audience. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the power of Daniel Kaluuya. (He also did a really great job portraying Bing, a man stuck in a dystopian future whose life changes when he met a highly ambitious woman in “Fifteen Million Merits”, the second episode of the first season of Black Mirror if you were so inclined to check it out.) And, best of all, even though he is the survivor of this movie, he doesn’t make bad choices like how horror victims would make in situations like this! He wouldn’t get into a door that looks spooky or continues to engage in a potentially harmful activity. Chris is a rational man, even though the conditions he’s put in is far from rational.
As a horror film, it doesn’t serve as much screams or jump scares as much as mainstream horror flicks like The Conjuring or Insidious does. I would categorize this more as a psychological thriller. It is obvious to see Peele’s influences from the history of horror; I can see influences from films like Rosemary’s Baby and The Shining – particularly horror/thriller films that speaks “something feels off with this place because everyone is acting so nice.” Yet, unlike The Conjuring, it does not take influence through their style (the film is set in the present day as present day could be) but it takes influence through their substance. Get Out is a film with a big plot twist, but rather than having the plot twist revealed all at once, it reveals itself to us slowly but surely, like a leaky faucet, gradually going into a big current of water without us even knowing it. Like Chris, the audience is encouraged to use their critical thinking to figure out what is happening in Rose’s family’s house. And, if you use your critical thinking, the truth will reveal itself to you faster than what you expected, but there will be more surprises you didn’t even think about.
Some critics would categorize this movie into the genre of social thriller, and it is indeed a social thriller. The first time I walked out of the theater after the film, I was mindblown about the film’s whole plot. A few hours after that, I thought that the film is super exaggerated in its execution. Well, that is the point. Through the plot of Get Out, Jordan Peele created a social commentary over the realities of being black in a white man’s world. The plot serves as an allegory to the dynamics of race in the United States. As you watch this, think about the race dynamics in the current events of the United States – the parallels would fit perfectly. And Peele did it in a non-preachy way – he puts his commentary in the guise of an exciting narrative. It’s not Animal Farm-level allegory where everything is set in the fantasy world; here, we can see the dynamics between races portrayed to the extreme, and that extremity is what makes this work a satirical one.
The pleasure of watching this film is enhanced by your woke-ness. There are some scenes in the film that could increase your anxiety/excitement if you actually pay attention to what’s happening in the world right now. Chris’s interactions with Rose’s family address the stereotypical views Caucasians have for African-Americans. Chris’s best friend is a TSA officer, and issues about border security are brought up. There’s even a pivotal scene at the end of the film that would make one hold their breath for a moment and get into deep anxiety and empathy towards our main character, and this feeling could only be achieved if you’ve actually paid attention to the news nowadays. Yes, Peele did give some background information in the film’s introductory phase, but the more you know, the more emotional response you’ll likely to generate.
In conclusion: Get Out should be part of the new horror canon – the new, diverse horror canon. Jordan Peele opens our perspectives in this film by viewing the horror genre through the African-American lens, taking influences from the past and the present to reflect 2017’s current condition in history and racial sociology, all wrapped in a witty, creative plot.