The running joke in horror movies is that the Black person never makes it to the end. ‘Get Out’ offers a fresh new punchline.

There’s a story running around lately that the movie Get Out is racist. There’s suggestion that it’s “anti-white,” even.

The irony is that the main people who’d accuse Get Out of being racist, are more than likely the real racists themselves. Were first-time director Jordan Peele (best known for his work on Comedy Central’s “Key & Peele” with fellow comedian Keegan Michael-Key) petty enough to do so, he could easily flip the “but I have a Black friend” trope into “I have a white wife” (his real-life spouse is fellow comedian Chelsea Peretti). The truth, is that Get Out uses race to advance the horror/thriller genre to a place it hasn’t been back to, in quite some time.


 

Get Out officially released in theaters on Thursday evening. Its plot focuses on a young Black man named Chris (Daniel Kaluuya, “Black Mirror”) who takes a weekend trip with his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) to meet her family for the first time at their estate.

This “meet the parents” type film with an interracial couple and the racial tension the couple must address isn’t new – both “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and its twenty-first century successor “Guess Who” have been here before. Get Out, however, sidesteps the usual framing of this story as a romantic comedy, opting instead to take it from a thriller/suspense approach. Indeed, the marketing for Get Out all but set up the movie as a horror flick from its initial debut trailer on.

If Get Out is scary, it’s only because it plays upon the very real anxieties that both Black and white people may have about each other. Its smart script (also written by Peele) seemingly falls in step with the viewer’s expectations, up until the third act of the film, when those expectations are flipped entirely on their head.

It’s cliche to say but director Peele is clearly a student of Hitchcock: he opts for wide, pan-out shots to set up environments, and headshots that depict the emotions of every character fully in any given moment. These shots pay homage to the horror movie tradition that frame “the calm before the storm.” The movie begins, for example, with Andrew King (La’Keith Stanfield of Atlanta) walking alone down the sidewalk at night surrounded by shadows before being followed by a mysterious car. It’s a typical thriller setup that is immediately offset by the next shot of Chris’s apartment and images of the pictures he takes, all while Childish Gambino’s “Redbone” plays in the background.

Get Out runs by at first solely on Chris’s paranoia. It’s an anxiety and sense of expectation that anyone who’s ever been in an interracial relationship will have confronted: the part where your physical differences must be addressed and where you start to notice changes or quirks in people’s behavior or language because of these differences. Rose’s parents Missy and Dean (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford, respectively) are cordial to Chris but there’s a tension between he and them from the jump – from the way Missy furtively eyes Chris down, to Dean hinting to his family’s racial history while giving Chris a tour of the house (one of Dean’s relatives, he points out, was a track star destined for greatness until he was beaten in a race by Jesse Owens).

White “microaggressions” pop up in the film early, from a cop asking for Chris’s license when he and Rose calling the police following an accident; to Missy, upon detecting a cigarette smell on Chris, asking him in an accusatory tone, “Do you smoke around my daughter?” This leads to Chris telling Rose “I told you so” when they are alone for the first time since their arrival, hinting to the tension he anticipated but that she couldn’t possibly detect. Rose’s response?” My parents aren’t racist!”

And then of course, there are the Whitfords’ servants, a Black groundskeeper and maid whose smiles are forced and whose stares are hostile. When Chris speaks to them, or vice versa, the servants speak mechanically, almost as if they are programmed. Something is weird that Chris can’t quite put a finger on; the audience can feel it, but Chris is made to feel that he’s crazy.

That “crazy” feeling is heightened when Chris is hypnotized by Missy in a deceptively simple way, after being caught up late and invited into her study to talk. One minute, Chris is sitting across from Missy talking, joking about generic conventions associated with hypnotism. The next, Chris is sharing a personal story from his childhood and suddenly “trapped” in his own head. When Chris awakens in bed the next day, almost as though he had a bad dream, he begins to think he’s losing his mind. There’s that, and the fact that he constantly finds his phone unplugged.

It also just so happens that on the same weekend Chris and Rose have come to visit his parents, there’s also a “gathering” – an annual social where the Whitfords invite their rich friends over to mingle, seemingly just cause. It is at this gathering that the strangest things happen: Chris is essentially sized up by the Whitfords’ friends, showed off even by Dean; and when Chris snaps a picture of the other Black man at the gathering (Andrew King from the movie’s start, now in a suit and straw hat), he charges at Chris and angrily barks at him, “Get out!” (clever)

When Chris tells his friend Rod (a hilarious breakout role for Lil’ Rel Howery) everything that’s happened, Rod offers an explanation; it’s pretty funny, and so implausible that it’s impossible to believe – until it turns out to be pretty damn close to the truth. Chris eventually reaches his breaking point and tells Rose that they have to go home. Before they leave, however, he discovers damning evidence about Rose that causes him to question the entire weekend. Get Out, it turns out, isn’t just the title of the movie – it’s the obvious answer to Chris’s problem, that practically every Black person in the audience had been telling Chris in their head the minute he had the conversation with the groundskeeper, that he ignored until it was too late.


 

The running joke in horror movies is that the Black person never makes it to the end. In fact, they’re often amongst the first ones to die. Jada Pinkett and Omar Epps in Scream 2. Mya in Cursed. Donald Glover in The Lazarus Effect. Only Busta Rhymes and Kelly Rowland immediately come to mind as entrants in the Black People Who’ve Survived A Horror Movie Hall of Fame (and technically Tony Todd, both as Candyman and as the mortician in the Final Destination films).

In Get Out, the Black person DOES make it through most of the movie. The comic relief character, Rod, is a jokester for the majority of the movie, but he turns out to be a critical piece of the story in the film’s climax (and does TSA proud in the process). What happens to Chris is so insane that it can’t be legitimately explained without watching the movie yourself. Its ending, however, is satisfying, if only because it, too, flips the viewers’ expectations on their heads. We’d like to think that the Black character in a Black-directed horror movie would be smart enough to leave before the danger hits. Chris, it turns out, is actually pretty dumb (you’ll say “Run, Fool! Run!” either in your head or aloud at least once during the film) but he redeems himself when it matters most.

Horror movies and thrillers in recent years have relied on gore, supernatural forces, and superhuman serial killers. Sometimes they work, but most times, they fall flat because they don’t really SCARE anyone. Jordan Peele took an ordinary, everyday occurrence and pushed it to an extreme point to where it’s smart, funny, and yes, might make you look differently at the phrase “stirring the tea.” Oh, and Georgina (played incredibly by Betty Gabriel)’s “that is not my experience” monologue is memorably creepy.

The best kind of horror movie is the one that plays not upon what you see, but what’s in your head. Because you can’t so easily “get out” of your head. Get Out drives that point home. It just happens to do so via images that may appear innocent to white folks (a policeman asking for your license, a silent auction that EERILY will call to mind a certain other kind of auction, a Black man with his hands up before a siren and swirling red and blue lights), but which Black folks are already terrified of on a daily basis.

Jordan Peele’s Get Out film is in theatres now.

One Response

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.