Jordan Peele’s debut film, Get Out, is probably not the horror movie you may have expected to see. However, I can tell you it is the horror movie we all need and deserved to see right now. I know what you’re thinking. “Calm down Batman. What do you know anyway?” Well, let me tell you what I know.
Recent “scary” movies to debut in late 2016 and into 2017 have not been very impressive by my personal standards. From the lackluster gore in 31, to the not-as-frightening-as-we-thought-they-would-be children of Ouija: Origin of Evil, recent films have given us striking visuals without coherent substance. What these films lacked in an original plot and development of their characters, they made up for in blood. We may have been shocked watching sociopathic clowns cut through hippie flesh with chainsaws, but we did not sympathize with their suffering. “Do you know what it feels like to be strangled to death?” sends chills up your spine when it emanates from a petite elementary school girl, but is that moment of terror worth watching a movie that gives us an unimpressive, and completely unoriginal, Nazi-background twist? We should want more from our horror movies. Instead of vibrant hues of crimson and demonic facial contortions, we need characters that demand empathy and stories that reveal rather than unravel. Hollywood films can not only provide shocking entertainment, but also be our best avenue for social commentary. Horror, I like to argue, displays the biggest triumphs through the darkest of places. My beef with these recent films is that they don’t provide that triumph, they just leave us hanging.
In February of this year, Get Out was released and proved to be a ray of sunlight in a dark, horror-less room. What we saw from this film was every bit of substance we were missing from the others. Jordan Peele’s characters are three-dimensional and interesting. Most of us fell for Rose’s (Allison Williams) sincerity while comforting him in his most vulnerable moment. Some of us even wiped away tears hearing Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) blame himself for his mother’s untimely death. Refreshingly, we didn’t know exactly where the movie was taking us, which left us at the edge of our seats waiting to see what kind of torture this family had been devising. I don’t know about you, but I did not feel even a single ounce of anxiety watching Charly try to escape from Doomhead in 31.
What may be missing for some horror fans though is its lack of immersion into the genre. The gore was minimal, the murders were scarce and not very brutal, the jump scares were few and far between, and it remained sans-supernatural. Instead, it was fast very paced and dark, fitting more under the category of thriller rather than horror. We played detective throughout our watching experience, revealing the mystery of the Armitage family. This played out in a similar way to Silence of the Lambs, rather than The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. All in all, audiences and critics have seemed to agree, Get Out was a thriller, and not a horror. But I disagree. To me this movie proves that the horror does not always lie in the gore, but in the content.
I will admit that Get Out is not “scary” in the conventional gory sense, especially for fans looking through the lens of Rob Zombie. But this movie made my skin crawl, it made my friends drop their popcorn, it made everyone in the theater grip the armrest for dear life and for Chris’ life. That type of emotional connection to the characters is important to me, and that is what makes a horror movie worthwhile. In his debut film as writer and director, Jordan Peele has held a mirror up to the most disturbing parts of our society. He may have gone easy on the blood and guts, but he did not hold back. Our ears are not shielded from the objectification that Chris receives from the Armitages and their family friends. With comments on his physique, and questions about his manhood, Chris is not protected from their blatant discrimination and neither are we. What is most interesting about these characters is that their racism is not revealed, but it is ever present. It is pervasive and insidious. From the moment he steps foot on their land, Chris is never safe from the Armitage family. The reflection we should see in Peele’s mirror is that of our current racial biases. We don’t want to see ourselves in the Armitage family, but we do. Our job now, instead of sending Chris to the “sunken place,” is to get him out.
If that is not horror, then I don’t know what is.