In honor of Oscar week I am taking a look back at some of the films nominated for awards this year. For this review I’m reaching far back to the beginning of the awards period and visiting the fascinating, terrifyingly apt social satire horror film that is Get Out. (pssst this film is also currently streaming on HBO)
Jordan Peele’s directorial debut masterpiece is fearless, not that you don’t feel fear. The film, currently back in theaters for award season, introduces us to a young couple, Chris ( the rising star Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose (a wide-eyed Girls alum Allison Williams). They are planning on traveling to meet Rose’s parents. It should be mentioned that Chris is already apprehensive of meeting her older, white parents “do they know I’m black” he asks. Rose laughs off his concerns, promising her parents are not racist.
Once they arrive at the house, a little shaken by a run in with both a deer and a hostile cop, the Armitage family could not be nicer. That friendliness has an uneasy undercurrent though, a tension that Peele plays with throughout the film.
Both the mother (Catherine Keener) and father ( a terrifyingly convincing Bradley Whitford) seem color-blind, but they are acting odd. Mr. Armitage goes out of his way to mention Jesse Owen at the 1936 olympics, but Chris tries to take it all in stride with a constant, if nervous smile. He expresses some concerns with Rose, although she seems like he is reading too much into her lame parents, and also call his skeptical friend (comedian Lil Rel Howery who surely deserved a Golden Globe supporting actor nod). But, he stays despite his obvious concern that the only other black people are the strange-talking and acting help; groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson) and Georgina (Betty Gabriel).
The next day is a party of sorts, and the rest of the white, rich liberal neighbors show up. (Not the group you would expect to be vilified huh?) They express interest in meeting Chris, but seemingly as a novelty in their white-washed neighborhood. Comments like “black is in fashion” and “how do you feel about the African American experience”. Not exactly typical small talk. Chris is relieved to see another black man at the party ( the amazing breakout Atlanta star Lakeith Stanfield), but when Chris takes a photo of him, he freaks out, desperately screaming at Chris to “Get Out.”
But its too late –– Chris is about to be in the middle of a full blown horror film. He has already visited the sunken place, he can’t move, he is paralyzed. The full horror of his reality hits you when Chris works up the nerve to leave the house, and he would, if only Rose could find the car keys. But she won’t give him the keys and as he is surrounded by the entire Armitage family.
Peele’s sunken place is going to be an iconic horror film motif. That paralyzing, suffocating fear we feel as Chris sinks into the floor is terrifying. It is an inevitable and claustrophobic fear that swallows you just like the sunken place. Peele plays with that fear, and capitalizes on the adrenaline in a final, bloody sequence. Chris breaks free, and we are all rooting for him, welcoming the slaughter of this evil.
As Chris continues to fight, the sickening truth about the other black people is revealed, and the stakes remain high until the very end. In a very harsh, realistic play on our modern social issues and convictions, the appearance of a cop car at the end of the film seems to dispel Chris’ hope. The audience expects this right, of course this can’t be good for Chris, why would it be? But in a total push back against the classic horror film idea that the “black guy never makes it to the end” Chris defies all odds and is saved by the “mother f-ing TSA” that is his best friend.
Peele totally rewrites and reimagines what you thought the horror genre could be. Get Out is a wickedly sharp, and wickedly smart social commentary that just happens to take the form of a horror film. Sure there are some jump-scares, and the creepy string instruments cords are played, but nothing about this film feels familiar. And it shouldn’t Peele has created an original, modern horror film from a point of view that is sadly not seen enough of in Hollywood. Strides are being taken, look at Donald Glover, Issa Rae, Ava DuVernay, and Ryan Coogler but we need to continue to celebrate new talent and different perspectives that truly represent everyone. Peele’s best director nomination is so, so deserved. Not to sound overzealous, but this film is revolutionary, and Peele is fearless. Get Out should be a shining example of a horror film that has elevated itself beyond the genre, it should be celebrated and rewarded.