The appeal of horror to moviegoers is not lost on the bean counters and film executives who determine what viewing fare will be offered up to the fickle masses. Determining what is scary is, of course, a subjective thing, as well before the advent of psychology, the Greek philosopher Aristotle suggested that people liked to be scared because it allowed them to purge their emotions, as a kind of catharsis.
This makes sense, since many horror movies capitalize on specific concerns, of the dark, sexuality, and so on. It is curious then, that no film comes to mind that addresses America’s very real percieved threat of the Black man. “Get Out,” which opened this past week, goes one better by focusing on the Black fear of White society at large.
The basic story line is a riff on the meeting-the-significant-other’s-parents scenario, in this case, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) the suitor is Black, and he’s off to be introduced to Rose’s (Allison Williams) parents in their affluent suburb. Rose is a down-with-the-hood White girl, who has no problem putting a nosy traffic cop in check when he is disrespectful to her man.
Once on the homestead proper, we get an inkling that all is not right, simply because everything is too good to be true. Rose’s parents, a hypnotherapist (Catherine Kenner) and a neurosurgeon (Bradley Whiford), mean well, vacillating between being hyper accommodating and overly apologetic.
A social gathering of family friends offers up more of the same, as the visitors are uniformly condescending. Chinks in the veneer of political correctness manifest themselves, however, when a female guest appraises Chris intrusively, her eyes giving his body a good going over.
“Is it true?” she asks. “Is it better?”
One of the classic milestones of modern terror, 1967’s “Rosemary’s Baby” was effective because the audience was never sure if Rosemary’s fears were justified, or just a symptom of her postpartum depression. In this scenario, Chris’ fears may just be an exaggeration of his understandable anxiety of wishing for acceptance and making a good impression.
Chris is able to vent his misgivings to his best friend Rod (LilRel Howery), who serves as Chris’ sounding board, as both exchange their racial phobias via cell phone.
While this is Jordan Peele’s first directorial effort, he has a more than extensive resume as a writer and performer as half of the comedy duo Key and Peele. This background is telling, as comedy is largely about timing, and Peele effectively uses pacing to build an atmosphere of ominous dread.
In interviews, Peele remembers coming up with the concept behind “Get Out” in the wake of the 2008 Presidential campaign, as a retort to the proclamation that the country was entering a “post-racial” era. Apparently a student of the horror genre, he has built upon themes touched on in other, earlier movies of note. The most obvious influence is “The Stepford Wives,” the 1975 classic in which well-heeled married men exchange their wives for submissive automatons (which also served as a metaphor for gender conflict, in keeping with that era’s emergence of women’s liberation).
Great art, like the comedy of Richard Pryor, transcends the realm of mere entertainment. While it is too early to make final judgment on this film, it is surely a commentary on the hot button issues of race so prominent in the present day.
By this time, “Get Out” has passed the Rite of Passage in its opening weekend, earning $33.5 million on a modest budget of $5 million. This, coupled with nearly unanimous reviews make Jordan Peele’s maiden voyage all the more remarkable (Armond White, a Black movie critic for “The National Review” and a noted contrarian has thus far penned the only negative review).
Then again, critical accolades are well and good, but Tinseltown is first and foremost about profit margins, and when you’re in the black, everything else is inconsequential.
“Get Out,” playing citywide, is rated R for violence, bloody images, and language including sexual references.