The reason many classic horror films fail to chill audiences today is the fact that the scariest ones of the time are rooted in the mindset of the people of that time. If you look back at the history of the horror genre, both in films as well as literature, patterns start to develop. Now while this is clearly because of the trend that got people in the cinema seats, there is a deeper reason for the popularity of each variant of fear. The popular fear of alien invaders in the films of the ‘50s can be traced to the fear of the American society which was constantly under the threat of foreign invasion, threatening their all-American values. The ‘60s and ‘70s saw an American population glued to their televisions which shocked them with stories of psychopaths and mass murderers such as Ted Bundy, and Hollywood responded with movies such as Halloween and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, realizing and heightening their fears. Get Out is the debut film by Jordan Peele, of Key & Peele fame, who subverts his usually comedic type for a far darker story that is too realistic for the times we live in.
Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is a young man on his way to meet his girlfriend’s parents for the first time. Like all black people, he is worried that Rose’s (Allison Williams) parents might not take too well to their dating, and at the very least that he might be subject to some racism in subtext. Once they get there, Chris feels comfortable at first, but soon thinks himself trapped in some strange world where the people behave far from normal. Rose’s parents seem like nice people, regardless of being unsure of how to act around a black person and overcompensating by saying things like ‘I would’ve voted for Obama a third time if I could.’ But as he learns more about the only two black people in the vicinity and family friends – middle-aged and old white people – start coming over for a party, Chris starts to worry for his own safety. Oh, and Rose’s mother is a psychiatrist who seems to be toying with his mind for some unknown reason.
Fear is a hard thing to pin down: people cannot be scared simply with dollops of blood and gore, or Cthulhu-like monsters that rise from the waters, but only by targeting their very realistic fears, whether they are tsunamis, terrorists or spiders (I mean, who isn’t scared of spiders?). It is pretty well known now that 1950’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers worked so well because it embodied the Red Scare that the United States was going through – a fear of Russian communists brainwashing their people. This is something Peele – who wrote, directed and produced the film – understands well, as he clinically places the different shades of modern-day racism in his alarmingly effective film that is equal parts horror and social critique. The fears and troubles of being black in the United States is not an unused theme: we’ve seen it in Fruitvale Station, Do the Right Thing, and recently, in last year’s Moonlight. However, I can guarantee that the subject matter has never received the treatment it does in Get Out, which combines those very realistic fears with a gripping thriller plot that sets your nerves on end from the very start. The screenplay is really effective in subtext: the micro-aggressive shades of racism and otherness seeping into every word, glance and movement of its characters. Peele does an amazing job, without resorting to on-the-nose aids, of suggesting to us that the civilized tone of conversation is a result of nothing more than social obligation. Get Out forces even those of us, who think ourselves to be free of prejudice, to question the nuances of our daily interactions, and that’s what makes it the most important film of recent times.
Keeping aside the social commentary for a moment, this film showcases Peele’s directorial mind, which understands that the first step to horror is making your audience feel unsettled, something he does from the very beginning when a deer collides with the couple’s car. Watching Get Out is like actually living through the ordeal, as the director puts you in Chris’ shoes with ease (not an easy task according to Hollywood, which must be why they stick to white actors for the protagonist’s role, so props to Peele) and makes you experience the puzzling events just as he does. Without giving anything away, this fresh story keeps you guessing throughout its narrative, pulling out twists and turns to the very end. While looking exactly like most human horror films these days in its ordinary scenes, Get Out is at its best during the hypnosis sequences, where sound and images synchronize to eerie extremes that render the viewer paralyzed.
One of the many reasons this film is able to pull you in so well is its incredible cast, starting with Daniel Kaluuya as Chris, who is able to project his character’s discomfort not just into his face, but also every movement his body makes. Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener as Rose’s parents fit very easily into their roles, experienced actors that they are. Maintaining a near-clinical temperament throughout, they are accompanied by Betty Gabriel, who brings out the creeps in her eyes and off-kilter smile. Allison Williams as Rose is also quite revealing in a number of scenes, carefully playing both the warm, loving side and the intelligent, resourceful one. The chemistry between Allison and Daniel is also sure to make several interracial couples reflect on their own experiences, especially while dealing with other people who often view such a relationship as alien.
Get Out is a creature of its time, an original, weird and subversive horror-satire that takes one of the most pressing issues of modern American society and plays with it in numerous ways. For one, there is the fantastical horror element that keeps the suspense going as the audience tries to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Beneath all the chills and eeriness is another, more realistic fear – the tamed remnants of racism that spills over from prejudiced minds to everything from a normal conversation about golf to the way we look at people. Today, more than ever, it is evident that racial prejudices are only held back for the sake of political correctness, as we see bigots the world over thrashing against these social obligations for threatening their way of life. Making us question not just the character of each person in the film, but also our own selves in the way we interact with each other, Peele has succeeded in crafting horror cinema that permeates down to the soul – that too, in his first attempt.