Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) famously opens (after the credit sequence) with what has to be one of the most famous shots of roadkill in horror—a dead armadillo on a hot Texas highway. The shot is an establishing shot, but it also predicts something of what is to come. The young and attractive main characters, speeding past the charnel houses of a forgotten part of Texas, will soon find other kinds of “animals” who have been left behind by civilization, abandoned by the side of the road of progress. And then they themselves will also become a kind of roadkill.
Approaches to Jordan Peele’s Get Out
Abstracts due: 9/3/17
Jordan Peele’s horror film, Get Out (2017) just became the highest-grossing debut project for a writer-director with an original screenplay (beating out the prior holder of that record, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s 1999 film The Blair Witch Project).
Get Out is not only an enormous box office success but it has won a critical acclaim unusual for a horror film—currently (as of early April, 2017) standing at 99% on Rotten Tomatoes with 225 positive and only one negative review.
Popular writers and bloggers have already mapped out a whole panoply of contemporary issues that Get Out takes up (many of them guided by what Peele himself has said in interviews). The film tackles liberal racism, US electoral politics, white privilege, feminism, the targeting of black men by the police, the prison industrial complex, even slavery. And its place within the horror tradition is already being mapped, as writers have pointed out the film’s explicit and implicit connections to Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Psycho (1960), Night of the Living Dead (1968), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Stepford Wives (1975), Halloween (1978), and The Shining (1980).
Get Out is widely touted as having inspired countless conversations among its viewers—propelling many of them back to the theater for a second and third viewing—and so it seems time to begin a conversation among scholars of horror, scholars of film, and scholars of millennial popular culture and politics more generally.
WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS
I never intended to write about Get Out, Jordan Peele’s whip smart takedown of institutional racism packaged up in one of the best horror films of recent memory. While empathy building in horror isn’t all that new, Get Out approaches its subject matter in such a wildly innovative way that I initially left the theatre thinking that this is what audiences must have felt like after seeing Hitchcock’s Psycho for the first time. For someone who sees as many horror films as I do, the feeling was special and I just wanted to savor it instead of immediately dissecting the film. But then I started reading articles about how some viewers found the film anti-white and the absurdity of it all inspired me to write about experiencing the film through the lens of white privilege. Because if you don’t appreciate the way that privilege plays into how you view this film, you’re missing the entire point.
For those unfamiliar (and seriously you need to head to a movie theatre immediately), Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose (Allison Williams), an interracial couple, convene to Rose’s parents house for a weekend. What follows is one of the most innovative forays into horror committed to film. There is a distinct narrative break in the way that Get Out tackles its social commentary than in the way horror has traditionally handled such explorations. Most films tend to either code its social commentary within horror tropes (Night of the Living Dead, American Psycho), an anthology format (Tales from the Hood) or to play uncomfortable moments for comedy (Tucker & Dale vs. Evil). Get Out falls back on none of those devices and instead, presents its satire aggressively and unapologetically. And the approach works. Instead of making the audience comfortable by putting a bit of distance between the commentary and them, the film doubles down and forces the audience to consider our own behavior and assumptions contribute to institutional racism. Read more
R 103 mins. Jordan Peele USA 2017
Jordan Peele’s Get Out is a masterful exercise in social commentary and a damn good horror film steeped in the horror tradition. Peele’s references aren’t mere knowing nods and winks, moreover; he evokes horror tropes in order to reflect on their earlier meanings and to create new meanings. Despite Peele’s brilliance, though, the film would not have worked as well as it did were it not for a stunning performance by Daniel Kaluuya as the film’s lead, Chris Washington. Kaluuya carried the film with his grace, compassion, humor and, in the end, his anger and outrage. As a horror fan, I was enthralled with a film that unequivocally embraced the horror tradition. As a moviegoer, I was drawn in and moved by Kaluuya’s Chris.
Kaluuya himself would not have been as effective without a stellar (and often chilling) supporting cast—especially Allison Williams as Chris’s girlfriend, Rose Armitage, Bradley Whitford as her father, Dean, Betty Gabriel as the Armitages’ housekeeper, Georgina, and LilRel Howery as Ron, TSA agent extraordinaire. Is it time, finally, for a horror film to win in some big categories at the Academy Awards (film, director, actor, supporting actor and actress) for the first time since Jonathan Demme’s Silence of the Lambs (which was, let’s remember, a whopping 26 years ago, now?)