Get Out | Jordan Peele Sets Benchmark for Horror Genre

The horror-film genre has been overrun by uninspired narratives, manufactured tension, bland dialogue and predictable endings. “Get Out” breathed life into the decaying art form as it evoked the genuine trauma black people endure in a so-called post-racial society while sprinkling in Jordan Peele’s trademark humor.

Known for his sketch-comedy series “Key and Peele,” Peele’s directorial debut grossed over $100 million in its first three weeks  with a budget of just $4.5 million. Great word-of-mouth and a nearly perfect Rotten Tomatoes rating lured moviegoers; a communal viewing only amplifies the experience of watching this film. As the movie barreled toward its climactic ending, every second entranced the audience. Synchronized laughter and groaning echoed throughout the theater as the horror-satire tackled race relations and prejudice through a thoughtful lens.

The opening scene follows a black man voicing his concerns about “sticking out like a sore thumb” walking through a suburban neighborhood after dark. The scenario is eerily reminiscent of the circumstances surrounding Trayvon Martin’s death—a young black man headed home at night. Childish Gambino’s “Redbone” blares in the next scene as Chris Washington, played by Daniel Kaluuya, cycles through his skillful photographs. His girlfriend Rose Armitage, played by Allison Williams, accompanies him as he finishes packing for their weekend trip to meet her parents. When she tells him they do not know he is black, Washington scoffs at her negligence, but she plays off with an off-hand yet honest testimony of her parents’ open-mindedness.

As the couple rides up to the lake house, they strike and kill a deer. While Rose talks with a police officer, he begins to harass Washington, who was not behind the wheel. Washington immediately complies with the cop’s demands and takes out his ID, but Rose convinces the officer to let them pass. The incident explicitly portrays the reality of interacting with the police for black people with fear of physical harm heightened in this prolonged stretch of documented cases of brutality.

When introduced to Dean and Missy Armitage, played by Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener, respectively, Washington breaks his stoicism with subtle head turns and grins at their remarks. Dean makes a point to show Washington a souvenir from Bali and tells him “it’s such a privilege to experience another person’s culture.” His well-meaning, but misguided comments allude to the modern white liberal who is quick to remind their friends they do not “see color.”

This was not the first time a joke was made at the expense of white liberalism. The first skit in Dave Chappelle’s episode of “Saturday Night Live” mocked the myopic confidence of liberal voters on election night, while Chappelle and Chris Rock were elated to see their rose-tinted worldview collapse as the results were announced. Donald Glover’s acclaimed FX series “Atlanta” featured an episode in which a white man lectures Glover’s character about the importance of visiting the motherland. “Get Out” synthesized that same condescending tone and Kaluuya’s expressive face and terse replies mirrored the quiet frustration contained by many minorities who must face ignorance every day.

When the Armitages host an annual party, several guests give racially charged comments to Washington, each intended as compliments. The film derives humor from these awkward exchanges as viewers are fully aware of the insensitivity and realism of each scene.

Washington’s conversations with his friend Rod Williams, played by Milton “LilRey” Howery, supply the rest of the laughs. Howery’s performance as the Transportation Security Administration’s most determined agent serves as a proxy for how audience members would react to the events of the film. His mannerisms and colloquial references provided a stark contrast to the buttoned-up, wine-sipping lakeside community by which Washington found himself.

In an interview with Sean Fennessey, editor-in-chief of The Ringer, Peele said he never intended for his film to be a commentary on racial biases. The first few drafts depicted a classic fish-out-of-water scenario, but as the script progressed through many rewrites, he allowed his story to evolve and be influenced by the turbulent political climate in the United States.

Peele began outlining the script in 2008, around the time of former president Barack Obama’s election, and questioned the “self-congratulatory” tone of racism being solved. “Many of us know that that just wasn’t the case. So it just struck me that this movie now had a place in culture that there could be a modern horror movie about race that discussed these issues that were being swept under the rug,” Peele said.

“Get Out” exists in two states: high-brow racial satire and thrilling horror flick. Where some directors lack the vision to succeed in storytelling and throw in twists and jump scares, Peele crafts both a nuanced and deliberate narrative with zero fluff. He gradually dials up the creepiness before launching into a full-throttle doomsday sequence. What sets this movie apart from others in its genre is not the graphic violence or stinging soundtrack, but its rendering of real-world fears and meaningful allusions to colonialism, slavery and modern prejudice.

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