It brings me great please to see a horror movie be nominated for Best Picture. Despite Silence of the Lambs taking home the trophy in 1991, this genre has always regarded as a low form of entertainment. That’s because the genre has been tainted by talentless hacks who resort to lazy clichés, gore and jump scares to attract an audience. But when done right, a horror film can hook the audience with sympathetic characters, engaging suspense and unsettling imagery. But the best horror films tap into a fear unexplored. Case in Point; Get Out. In his directorial debut, Jordan Peele uses the horror tropes to present a subtle satire on modern race relations.
Despite the warnings of his immature TSA agent friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery), photographer Chris joins his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) to the country for a week with her parents. Chris worries about her parents reacting to their daughter dating a person of colour, but Rose reassures him they are very open minded. At first, he seems to get along just fine with her father (Bradley Whiteford), mother (Catherine Keener) and brother (Caleb Landry Jones, also in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri). But something seems a bit off about this place. First, everyone’s seems too focused on his skin colour. Plus, someone keeps unplugging his phone. And then there’s the strange behavior of the black servants. He’s about to stumble on a bigger conspiracy.
From the cold opening of a black man abducted in a white suburbia, Jordan Peele already displays strong confidence in his filmmaking and the skills to back it up. He shows a strong understanding of horrors in the way he plays to the genres strength, from the unassuming setting to tension building. Like Hitchcock, Peele’s able to create a sense of threat from ordinary objects. Nowhere is this truer than with the mother’s teacup and spoon. Hearing the clinking sound over her conversation with Chris sends a chill down your spine. He also gets terror out of performances, especially Betty Gabriel as housemaid Georgina. Seeing her Barbie doll smile makes you want to back away.
It surprising to see this masterful filmmaking skills coming from a Mad TV alumnus. Known for being one half of the comedy team Key & Peele, He and his co-star Keegan Michael Key were known for their creative commentary on race. In Get Out, Peele uses that creative commentary to go after a subtler kind of racism. The father goes out of his way to try and prove how not racist he is, claiming “I would have voted for Obama a third time.” Not only do these attempts come off as self-congratulatory but ignores Chris as a person. And he is a person who likes to smoke and has personal trauma he hasn’t overcome. In attempts to praise his race for their “genetic makeup”, these people are putting Chris in a box to fit an archetype.
Get Out is one among a growing trend of what I’d like to call Cerebral Horror. This new trend of horror uses the genres to sneak in deeper meanings. The Babadook uses a monster to symbolize the main character’s grief. The supernatural figure in It Follows has symbolized STDs. Peele elevates this genre by using it to comment on the relevant issue of race. Hopefully, this trend of horror continues on.