The fear is real
It was only a matter of time before the Black Lives Matter movement got its own horror movie. With the recent spate of captured-on-video murders of African Americans at the hands of authorities, as well as the attendant white apathy and victim-blaming, the terror of being a black person in a world of crazy white people has been omnipresent in the public consciousness.
Several documentaries last year tied the Black Lives Matter movement into a larger historical examination of the American civil rights movement, most notably I Am Not Your Negro, Do Not Resist and 13th. Those films are essential documents, especially the former two, but no genre provides anxiety-exorcising catharsis quite like horror. By their very outlaw nature, horror films can go places other films would never dare—that’s why it’s a shame that most of them never go anywhere at all.
Writer-director Jordan Peele’s Get Out, though, is a smart and stylish sociological horror movie more akin to recent revisionist genre entries like The Babadook and It Follows, albeit with a healthy helping of What We Do in the Shadows-level belly laughs. It’s provocative and complex, which makes it a change of pace for the prolific production company Blumhouse, whose many, many horror films tend to rely on earsplitting soundtrack spikes for their scares, as opposed to anything truly unsettling or perverse.
Daniel Kaluuya, a prolific television actor best known to movie audiences as Emily Blunt’s fellow FBI agent in Sicario, stars as Chris Washington, a handsome and polite young black man going to meet his white girlfriend’s family for the first time. Allison Williams plays Rose, the girlfriend, and Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford play her parents, respectively an esteemed hypnotherapist and a cutting-edge brain surgeon, while a couple of terse black servants roam the grounds like smiling zombies.
Rose assures Chris that her parents are tolerant to the point of embarrassment, but Chris’ best friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery, walking away with the film like it belonged to him), stokes his paranoid fears about being the only black person in a room full of white people. Great setup, but the trick is to stretch the story beyond the premise, since it’s instantly obvious that something is amiss. Making his directorial debut, Peele manages to continually pique our interest, even when we know where the story is heading.
Almost the entire classic horror canon is structured around white fears of otherness in all of its forms, but Get Out rearranges the pieces, aligning itself with Black Lives Matter by putting an innocent and utterly sympathetic black man at its center, and forcing the viewer to empathize with his very real fears. Perhaps the most exciting part of the film was when the lights came up, and a diverse group of men and women of all ages and races left the theater buzzing with excitement.