The movie Get Out is a horror film, which is surprising considering this film is the comedian Jordan Peele’s directorial debut. However, Peele of Comedy Central’s Key and Peele fame, has said that “It’s a horror movie but it has a satirical premise.”. It was released in February 2017, not early enough to be featured in this year’s Oscars. It’s not common for a horror film to earn award season buzz, but this already award-winning film is predicted to bring home some Oscars in 2018. Its 99% on Rotten Tomatoes is higher than any of the Best Picture nominations of last year. Well received by critics around the world, what makes this movie the sleeper hit that it turned out to be?
Movie poster (source: http://www.traileraddict.com/get-out-2017/poster/2)
The movie centres around Chris Washington, a photographer, and a black man with a white girlfriend – Rose Armitage. Rose wants Chris to visit her parents at their estate, but Chris is hesitant, as he is unsure of how her parents would react if they knew that their daughter had a black boyfriend. This commentary on society’s perception of interracial couples is one of the underlying themes of the movie. Despite his best friend Rod, a black TSA agent, warning him not to do so, Chris agrees to meet Rose’s parents.
On arriving at the Armitage estate, Chris meets Dean and Missy, Rose’s parents. Dean is a neurosurgeon, while Rose is hypnotherapist. If you have watched a lot of horror movies, that combination of professions might give you a sense of what’s about to come. But that’s not remotely the strangest thing that’s happening at the estate. The only servants that the old couple have employed are Georgina – the housekeeper, and Walter – the groundskeeper, who are both black. Chris observes that their behaviour is not normal at all.
That night, as Chris goes out for a smoke, he has a bizarre run-in with Walter. As he returns to the house perplexed, he is surprised by Missy, who offers therapy to treat Chris’ nicotine addiction and Chris humours her. Missy hypnotises Chris; he feels himself fall through the chair, paralyzed in a void she calls “the sunken place”. Chris wakes up the next morning believing it was all a nightmare, but later realizes that Missy has hypnotized him to quit smoking, as the thought of a cigarette now induces him to throw up. Instead of the familiar swinging-clock hypnosis, Missy used a spoon and a teacup to hypnotize Chris. The decision to use the teacup trick is perplexing as the film itself makes fun of the swinging-pendulum trope.
Soon Chris discovers that the Armitages are going to hold their annual get-together. At the get-together, Chris meets Logan, the only other black man at the party, whom Chris finds to be unsettlingly familiar. Various older white couples take an uncanny interest in Chris and make uncomfortable remarks, such as claiming to “love Tiger Woods”, or that “black is in fashion”, or adulating black figures. Peele’s commentary on black culture appropriation and the uncomfortable racial tension that every black man experiences is extremely clear in this scene.
One of the creepiest and most defining scenes in the film is the mysterious bingo game auction that is held with Chris’ picture on display. It bears a strong resemblance to the auctioning off of negro slaves that was common before slavery was abolished in the United States in the 19th century. This mix of social commentary and horror is rather unique to this film.
So, what’s the deal with the Armitage family? What was that auction being held for? Can their abnormal behaviour be explained away as commonplace racism? Or is there something darker going on? Well, this review won’t spoil that for you.
Despite the plot of the movie itself being quite good, that is not the only strength of the film. The first half builds up an aura of mystery and creepiness, that is carried through by the amazing acting and directing. The second half does not disappoint, but is not able to live up to that atmosphere that is established by the first half.
Jordan Peele, the director of the film
But the best thing to come out of the film is probably Jordan Peele’s talent as a director and a film maker. This film is a very personal venture for him and the fact that he is a first-time director never shows. Peele understands that most good horror movies are made when fears that are already embedded in the human psyche are amplified. He understands that if a black man goes to visit his white girlfriend’s parents, there is uncertainty and unease. Peele simply decided to amplify these fears, using the racial tension to make a really good horror movie.
Peele somehow manages to combine satire and horror in a film, without compromising on either of the elements. Despite Peele being a comedian, there are no comedy routines in the film with the sole exception of Rod’s character who simply serves to break the tension, which the movie does have a lot of. Overall, Peele has taken a lot of risks with this movie. Not many modern films have tackled modern racism so explicitly, and Peele must surely have been worried about the film’s reception. Would a black person feel uncomfortable watching this movie, a movie that satirizes everyday racism, sitting next to a white person? Or vice versa? Somehow, this did not turn out to be a problem as the film made a quarter of a billion dollars with a small budget of just over 4 million dollars.