Sunday night at the 90th Academy Awards, comedian/writer/director Jordan Peele made history, as he accepted a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for his little social-thriller-movie-that-could, Get Out. Perhaps because of the current push of the “Me Too” and “Time’s Up” equality/inclusion movements happening in Hollywood at the moment, the Academy took notice of this small budgeted, Blumhouse-produced, indie horror movie- that those of us who live, breathe, and die horror had been waiting for months before its actual release in February 2017.
Time and time again, us horror diehards watch, analyze, talk about, and recommend our favorite good-quality horror films that may or may not get noticed by mainstream audiences per se- nor make a lot of money to be considered Hollywood “hits”- yet, all too often, the prestigious (aka pretentious) award ceremonies never acknowledge these films enough to even consider them as noteworthy nominees. The Oscars are especially guilty of ruling out horror films in their selections. Classics like The Exorcist, Misery, and Rosemary’s Baby have all been lucky enough to be some of the mere handful of horror films to take home the Golden statue, but the most recent film to do it- (sorry, but I don’t count Sweeney Todd)- is 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs, which won several awards the following year. Think about this for a moment: 1991 was 27 YEARS AGO. THE LAST HORROR MOVIE TO WIN AN OSCAR WAS 26 YEARS AGO. I have friends who are the same age as that.
In spite of all the risky odds against it, Get Out– which tells the story of a young black man going home to meet his white girlfriend’s suspicious family for the first time in a “post-racial” America- became a pop culture phenomenon that captured the minds and hearts of audiences and critics alike. But, what exactly makes Get Out so special than all the rest of the recent horror gems that we would like to see be recognized? And what will this iconic Oscar win do for the rest of the horror community going forward?
I will always remember when Blumhouse first released a teaser trailer for Get Out in the fall of 2016, about six months or so before its theatrical release. I- an avid reader of horror blogs and newsletters, before eventually starting my own- stopped what I was doing at the moment and was riveted by this stylistic, Twilight Zone-reminiscent thriller about the perils of race- something that I just had never seen before. How often do we see horror films that take huge risks like that? How often do we get exposed to horror films that actually have blatant, in-your-face social implications, that are not just reiterations or recyclings of other ideas that Hitchcock, Carpenter, Romero, Kubrick, or King have already done before? Hardly ever.
Between Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris being forced to sink into the floor and being silenced within the metaphorical Sunken Place, symbolizing the historical silencing of African-Americans in regards to their speaking out against racism, to the scene of literal cotton-picking to help escape the film’s own version of slavery, to the black character Lakeith Stanfield’s Andre hearing the ominous “Run, Rabbit, Run” from a car stereo before being ambushed and dragged against his will to a deliberatly-colored white car- for me, the brilliance of Get Out lies in the intricately executed layers and Easter eggs that the film offers. Jordan Peele is a tried and true writer, which is why I relate to him the most. Every single, minuscule detail in Get Out was intensely thought-out, creating a new surprise for each and every viewing after your first initial screening. Spoiler alert ahead (which, shame on you, if you call yourself a genre fan and haven’t seen this yet) After the reveal that Allison William’s Rose Armitige is not only merely involved in the family’s Coagula brain transplant schemes- but- she’s romantically manipulated at least a dozen black men and women prior to Chris, bringing them back to the family for the lobotomizing brain transplants without their knowledge/consent, to the point where she has it down to a science- your second viewing is an entirely different experience. You start to notice all the nods to Rose’s true colors (no pun intended) that you may not have picked up on during your first watch: a) when the cop comes to their aid after Rose and Chris hit a deer on the way to her family home, we initially think that she is defending her black boyfriend against blatant racism, after the cop asks for his ID, even though he wasn’t even driving. Of course, we later realize that Rose is so adamant about not giving Chris’s ID to the cops because she doesn’t want to leave a paper trail of Chris’s whereabouts; b) all those annoyed, snide facial expressions that Rose shoots at the partygoers during the party scenes, after they make ignorant remarks about Chris’s blackness, were not because Rose was embarrassed at their ignorance- (she just didn’t want them to give away what was actually happening!) amongst other clues…
Additionally- like the genuine horror fan that Jordan is- he threw in a few nods to some of his favorite horror movies that paved the way for him: the number 237 is mentioned over the P.A. system, as character Rod tries to get ahold of the missing Chris- which is a direct reference to The Shining‘s infamous hotel room. I don’t know about you, but I also felt bleak-suburbia Halloween vibes in the opening scene, in which Andre is walking onto the quiet suburban street alone. Apparently, I was correct, as Jordan confirmed this John Carpenter-influenced scene to Vanity Fair: “As he’s walking through a very Halloween-esque white suburb, he goes, ‘Man, I feel like I’m in a hedge maze out here'”.
One of Jordan’s biggest accomplishments with the success of Get Out was its riskiness within its narrative. While previous Oscar-winning horror films like Exorcist and Lambs were straight up solid pieces of cinema, we did not necessarily receive any major pieces of social commentary or lessons within their moral compasses- other than religious and/or cop versus criminal relational themes- neither one told a story that had the balls that Get Out‘s urgent and timely story about blatant American racism has. Jordan Peele did not play it safe here: he (eventually) won over the archetypes of people that his film depicts as villains: older, white “progressives” that do not even realize their own institutionalized racism. In fact, according to an article in Vulture, several of the Academy voters dismissed the film before they even viewed it…while others did watch it and enjoy it, but would not even consider it “Oscar-worthy”. One voter told Vulture that he had to push for Get Out to be taken more seriously by some of the other voters: “I had multiple conversations with longtime Academy members who were like, ‘That was not an Oscar film.’ And I’m like, ‘That’s bullshit. Watch it.’ Honestly, a few of them had not even seen it and they were saying it, so dispelling that kind of thing has been super important.” One barrier broken down, a few more to go.
I told my friends several times after Jordan & Co. were first announced as Academy Awards nominees that, if Get Out was to win any of the four nominations it received, I really wanted Jordan to receive the award for Best Original Screenplay. Key word here: original, because there is just nothing like Get Out that has ever been quite done in this way before. Sure, some could argue that Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner may have had a step up in this black-guy-meets-white-girlfriend’s-family premise, but Get Out has proven itself to be so much more than that, and, in a genre that contains so few black protagonists that you could more or less count the memorable ones on one hand, Jordan may be on to a revolution- not only with gaining more respect for the horror genre in general, but for the African-American community that wants their voices and stories to be told within this genre, as they have sat back for so long and rooted for white protagonists in these narratives.
Credit where credit is due, Blumhouse Productions gave Jordan a shot on this film a few years back, which Jordan has noted before that he received more creative freedom that he thought he would have. Blumhouse films can go either way- they’ve given us interesting concepts from movies like The Purge, yet the end result wasn’t the best execution of the idea. They’ve released a couple bummers like the pointless Ouija. They’ve given us solid films like Split, The Gift and Paranormal Activity as well. Blumhouse will also be releasing the new Halloween film due out this fall, which they keep insisting David Gordon Green and Danny McBride had genius ideas for, so we’ll have to wait and see. Regardless, ballsy production companies like Blumhouse- (and A24 Films is another good one too)- seem to be hungry for innovative ideas when it comes to future horror films, and I’m hoping that the success of Get Out will be motivation for other future horror filmmakers to breathe new life into the genre in similar ways that Jordan & Co. has.
Movies like Get Out help introduce the masses to top-notch quality horror that they may not normally have the opportunity to see, since so many shitty ones like the Insidious franchise and the Annabelle–types seem to dominate the box office. This not only paves the grounds for audiences to delve deeper into the best corners of the horror genre, but it also helps garner respect for the genre as a whole- including from the Academy. I can’t stand people who are so oblivious that they think that “scary movies” (I hate when people call horror that) are only mindless hours of people doing stupid things, or just pointless excuses to watch people do cruel things to each other- and I even moreso hate the fact that horror has to continuously keep proving itself as an intelligent, thought-provoking genre experience, containing tales of real emotional depth and fears that no other genre is quite capable of capturing quite as well.
Through films like Get Out, horror has received the validation that it deserves, and it has proven the doubters wrong. And as for the rest of us, we just have one thing to say: We told you so.