Through various circumstances, I failed to see Jordan Peele’s directorial debut movie twice at the movies. In the meantime, the critical and cultural conversation around the film could not be ignored. To some extent, several aspects of the film had been technically ‘spoiled’ (e.g. I’d read a discussion about alternate endings for the film and so knew which one was used).
Of course, you can’t entirely spoil a horror story, Psycho still works regardless if you know the twists – some of the immediate shocks may be lost but the tensions and atmosphere remain. Get Out didn’t feel spoiled for me at all but I’ll avoid spoilers if you haven’t seen it. Suffice to say that it is a horror film whose premise is an African-American man Chris (played by Daniel Kaluuya) visits the home of his girlfriend’s very middle-class white parents.
Despite a brief, violent start, the film mainly uses a ratchet of tension to upset and unnerve the viewer. It begins grounded in the basic anxiety of people in a newish relationship meeting one half’s parent’s for the first time. Coupled with this is Chris’s concern about how he will be received as a black man dating a white woman in modern America. That tension morphs into the uncomfortable cringe of the overly friendly parents, the unpleasant brother which is amplified by the odd behaviour of the family’s two black servants.
I don’t think I have much to add to the conversation on the themes of the film and how Peele masterfully pulls those themes together into a seamless film. This review at The Atlantic I think captures one of my main thoughts about eyes, sight and cameras are used to drive the story and also frame the themes (contains many spoilers https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/03/in-get-out-the-eyes-have-it/518370/ ).
In short, it works both as a horror film and as a film that explores the black experience of America. Which shouldn’t be a surprise? Horror has always had a strange capacity to deal with far more than its supposed subject matter. As a profitable but marginalised genre it resembles children’s television in having a odd degree of licence that more mainstream genres have – which is an excuse to site Doctor Who as series that crosses both spaces (co-incidentally Daniel Kaluuya is a Doctor Who alumni, having appeared in the David Tennant special ‘Planet of the Dead’).
Peele picked a perfect genre in which to use a satirical lens and that capacity for satire is also what allows horror to move so neatly into comedic spaces or in this case vice-versa. If anything Get Out is not particularly humour heavy considering Peele’s comedic talents but it uses humour effectively to knowingly contrast some of the absurdity of the premise with the inescapable horror of Chris’s circumstance.
But onto another issue – Get Out is also a nominee for Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form Hugo Award. I think it is undoubtedly a worthy candidate. Is it science-fictional enough? Well, as discussed last year Best Dramatic Presentation is a looser category in terms of science fiction and fantasy. Having said that, yes Get Out is stylistically a horror film and makes more use of horror-movie tropes (and situation comedy tropes) than science-fictional ones. However, there is some substantial speculative content (that I’ll discuss in more depth in another post as it ties in with some recent reading) and the premise of an apparently benign environment that is actually a seductive trap is one that has substantial history in both science-fiction and horror (e.g. see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 as variety of that trope). At some point, the mask will slip and the benevolent host will be revealed to be a…well a something and it wants the hapless hero for something else other than one evening’s dinner conversation. The title itself ‘get out’ captures not only a line from the film but also the key point in the wider family of such storylines – the emotional beat that the viewer has been wanting to warn the central character of all along.
In short, I’m not remotely worried about the SFnalness of Get Out and I doubt many others will be either.