Welcome back to Sound Off!, a semi-regular column where members of Speculative Chic gather together to chat about the latest BIG THING in entertainment. This time, we’ve escaped typical horror movie tropes to discuss Get Out, which premiered in the United States on Friday, February 24, 2017.
Sound Off! is meant to be a reaction, but not necessarily a review. After all, while we are all individuals, even mutual love of something (or hate) can come from different places: you may find everything from critique to fangirling to maybe even hate-watching.
Now, join guest chic John Edward Lawson as he talks about Get Out! [Note: No spoilers here!]
John: In late 2016 I came across one of those social media oddities that can really make your day: a fake movie trailer for Get Out, the variety of film you wish studios would make, but they never do. The trailer was a satire with such deadly accuracy it zoomed past hilarity to hit somber dread, which in turn heightened the humor. It was stunning. And, as it turned out, what I was seeing wasn’t a spoof, it was a real project from the team of Key & Peele.
Despite initially being impressed, I was unwilling to believe the filmmakers would carry through on the promise delivered via trailers and pre-release hype. If anything, I figured director Jordan Peele and his producers would be content to go for cheap thrills and predictable giggles, or attempt “statements” that were ham-handed and forgettable. Instead what we get is slow burn creep-out featuring an ensemble cast used to maximum effect.
The investment in characters is considerable, and sucks you in from the beginning. This pays off, because we find ourselves in a believable world with realistic reactions, cause, and effect, making the introduction of speculative elements easy on the audience. Standout performances in this area include:
- Martin “LilRel” Howery, although not the central character, is a scene-stealer with his charisma and delivery, but without the sharp dialogue to make it work he’d have fallen flat at best, or been a stereotype at worst, of the variety we so often see in “black friend” characters.
- Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener, playing the love interest’s parents, turn out to be a brilliant pairing. Their background in both drama and comedy brings moments to the film that rival their work such as The West Wing, Being John Malkovich, and Cabin in the Woods. They have a knack for helping director Jordan Peele find the uncomfortable in otherwise happy moments, and the disarmingly humorous and relatable in alarming situations.
- Caleb Landrey Jones further entrenches himself as the definitive outsider; you may have seen him being grimly passionate and offbeat in films such as Antiviral and Byzantium.
- As protagonist Chris Washington, Daniel Kaluuya delivers a performance so understated you forget he’s acting, exploring the full emotional range from grief to love to rage, but shining just as strongly existing in the mundane moments we all share. Making those believable is his most important strength because these “in-between” moments are primarily where the film builds intensity.
It would be easy to go the route of a typical slasher, torture porn, or supernatural FX blowout. Instead Get Out uses moments of silence to unnerve, and seriously…when all conversation stopped during the party scene, the audience was unanimous in our “Nope, y’all are too much!” response. Gratuitous content is avoided, with most violence occurring out of the frame. There is also an absence of nudity or sex scenes. Instead of hyperkinetic jump cuts to raise our heart rates, we have lengthy closeups of weirdos dragging us through painfully awkward conversations to increase apprehension.
In addition to avoiding pitfalls common to horror, Get Out averts “disappearing black man” syndrome — in which the strong black second-in-command vanishes during the last 20 minutes of a film (see Jurassic World, Sicario, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) — as well as “white savior” syndrome. Chris turns out to be a resourceful hero. Unlike so many horror entries with forced obstacles and strengths, these elements are carefully put into play early, then maintained with continuity.
On top of that, Peele went out of his way to provide backstory as to why Chris’ antagonists have a “reason” to torment him, and others like him. Likewise, ethnic minorities in the police department are unwilling to assist, finding the proposed crimes ludicrous, demonstrating that whites alone are not blanket monsters/bad guys. The problem isn’t the system either, because Chris’ buddy uses his “TSA skills” to try again and again to save the day, casting the TSA in a humorously heroic light.
When it comes to what the film is really saying we could get deep, but maybe that’s a discussion best left to academic journals. Suffice to say: this movie is creepy as all get-out, and not in a way that makes you feel like a cheeseball for enjoying it.
When considering the framing, use of sound design, transitions, and attention to detail — in addition to more obvious elements such as the screenplay and performances — I find it difficult to believe this is Jordan Peele’s feature film directorial debut. Not satisfied with that accomplishment, Peele also managed to create something that succeeds as both a horror/thriller and a comedy.
It’s my hope that Peele not only continues to deliver, but that those in minority groups are inspired by him help make inroads in horror and the other speculative genres as well. Because I’m telling you right now that guy can just take my money. I’m willing to bet you’ll feel the same when you leave the theater.
John Edward Lawson’s novels, short fiction, and poetry have garnered nominations for many awards, including the Stoker and Wonderland Awards. In addition to being a founder of Raw Dog Screaming Press and former editor-in-chief of The Dream People, he currently serves as vice president of Diverse Writers and Artists of Speculative Fiction.