Something very important happened in horror and film this last weekend. A film was released about racism in America, written and directed by a black man in his directorial debut, and it also happened to be in the horror genre. It currently has a 99% on Rotten Tomatoes and received a sea of positive reviews. Yes, this is proof of what horror is capable of, but more importantly, it is a story that uses horror like a weapon against racial injustice.
I know there’s that little disclaimer to the left of the page warning you about spoilers, but seriously, before you read any further, go see this movie. See it in a theater. In a crowded theater, if you can. Experience it grandly, surrounded by other people, horror fans and not. Be outraged together. Cheer together. Then tell everyone you know.
I am a huge, huge, huge, HUGE fan of Key and Peele. Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key are not just brilliant comedians, they’re thespians first. They have an appreciation of the craft behind the art. I was devastated when they wrapped up Key and Peele. I remember watching a Halloween episode and thinking about how easily those two could slip into horror.
Peele is obviously a horror fan, and understands that link between the two genres that happens on the body and mind. To quote Jordan Peele on horror and comedy:
“I’ve been a horror fan for so long. I’ve done so much comedy over the last 15 years, but you could recognize a lot of similarities between the genres. So much of it is pacing, so much of it reveals. So much of it is the ability to pinpoint what an audience is going through at that very moment.” [Forbes]
Are you paying attention?
This is a horror story about a young man meeting his white girlfriend’s family. This is very carefully built story, and there wasn’t a wasted moment or piece of dialogue. It was lean and intentional. Before everything goes tits-up for Chris, there were these little bits sprinkled throughout it, and if you caught them, they mega-unnerved you. Did you catch any of these?:
- Jeremy’s car is playing “Run Rabbit Run” on repeat. It’s a creepy old song about making rabbit pie, and gleefully mauling rabbits.
- The father, Dean Armitage, says they had to “seal up the basement” due to some “black mold.” This doesn’t make sense for a few reasons. One, you don’t seal up a space forever because of black mold; it will only get worse and worse. Two, those people are loaded. A simple mold infestation would not be a big deal to take care of. When you let that sit with you for a second, you realize that he is talking about sealing up black people, comparing them to toxic fungus, and also hinting at the Sunken Place.
- Dean also tells Chris how far away the nearest house is, just in case he, you know, tries to make a run for it in a few days once the brains hit the fan.
- When Chris and Rose pull up to the house for the first time, there are these little pillars with Omega signs on them that aren’t in earlier photographs or video of the house. This symbol can mean “the end of everything.”
- Although the outside of the house is relatively modern-looking, the inside is a straight-up plantation house for the modern age. Complete with parlors and sliding doors.
- It’s just weird that this family would have a big birthday party for their deceased grandfather.
- All of the party guests are wearing some form of black, and it’s clear why after we reach the auction for Chris Bingo game. The party outfits are also a little hilarious: each couple is wearing something that matches each other in some way, the funniest being a younger woman with a man in a wheelchair and breathing tubes – her dress’ black strappy pieces mimic his breathing tubes! Other couples match a pocket square to a dress ruffle, etc. This of course, excludes Andre, who is dressed like he belongs in a Mark Twain book. This was intentional; we are meant to notice him, the way that Chris does.
- Chris asks Andre to take the uncomfortable question asked of him and “talk about the black experience.” Andre starts to crack out of his hypnosis. He starts to cry as he says, “that’s not my experience.” And the party guests are so happy to have that verbal confirmation that racism doesn’t exist. Coming from the white man who has stolen a young black man’s body.
- I mean really, what good can come from a bunch of white people meeting at a gazebo with that many rows of chairs? Come on, now.
Get Out takes a prismatic view of racism. It isn’t always outright, it isn’t always obvious in the moment, but it is always a gross feeling that something is just very wrong. Even the art dealer, who calls the rest of the party guests “ignorant racists,” pays $11,000 (or 11 million? unclear) for Chris’ body and artist’s eye. He wants the black experience for himself, when it was never his, and even if he had Chris’ eyes, it would never be his. Dean Armitage decorates his house with trinkets from around the world to show how “worldly” he is, even though (aside from being a racist body-snatcher) he is basically turning other cultures into mascots for his personal white man use. He says, “I’m not a racist” with a kind of aggressive gusto that is almost violent. Yeah. This is a very timely movie to remind us all what gaslighting looks like.
In these movies where everything except the hero is creepy and wrong, we are looking for those moments when the scene cracks, when the true intent is revealed. This one shows its guts pretty early on, but the bigger reveal, that Rose is a true psychopath with a box of trophies in her closet, slips out the morning after Chris is hypnotized. After Chris tells Rose that her mother hypnotized him without his consent, Rose acts like this isn’t a big deal. Ummm… WHAT. And that’s after she lays into a cop for being racist. So to recap: it’s bad when institutions are racist and violating, but when perfectly nice/polite/rich white people pry into someone’s actual mind, it’s not a big deal. Because they “aren’t racist.” They voted for Obama.
After the big, big reveal, when Rose puts her hair back and the family closes around him and he knows it’s over, Chris isn’t even really surprised. He sort of nods, like he kinda expected this. How gutting is that? These villains probably think that they actually worship blackness, when in reality they are really body-snatchers, they are performing an ultimate act of blackface. They are white people trying to make black people into white people.
Also, a small note – when these villains are at their worst, they are wearing all white. Like KKK members. Missy is wearing all white when she hypnotizes Chris without his consent. Rose wears a white turtleneck when she talks to Rod on Chris’ phone.
Peele mentions in that Forbes article I linked to that there hasn’t been a horror movie directly discussing racism since Night of the Living Dead . Peele is borrowing a bit from that ending, or at least understanding his audience, who will feel some familiar strums as the police sirens pull up in the finale. A quick reminder: at the end of Night of the Living Dead, our hero, who is black, is shot down by police who believe that he must be a zombie. Get Out ends with Chris’ hands around Rose’s throat, before he releases her and stares down at her. I was so stressed out during this scene, thinking, “Oh, God, oh God, the police are gonna pull up and totally shoot him oh my God oh my God, no no nononono.” I’m so glad that Peele re-wrote that ending, with these two friends driving back to safety.
Let’s have a moment for the real hero of this tale, TSA Agent Rod Williams. He kept the cute dog alive in a horror movie. He saved his best friend. He was an on-call voice of reason when his friend was being threatened and bullied and sexualized. As Peele is fond of doing, he is playing up and against both stereotypes of the wise black man and funny black man in Rod’s character, but Peele elevates the role. He’s reminding us of the history of black characters in cinema, that we have to do better.
Peeking behind the curtain
I want to talk about the psychopath girl next door, but first, let’s talk about her brother, Jeremy. Ok. So I love this movie, but the brother was a misstep for me. He’s the one character that is immediately a lunatic. As soon as he comes on screen, everything changes. He’s like this scrappy berserker character who could go violent any second. Wouldn’t it be even more unnerving if the brother was this cut beefcake dude who was kind of quiet and a little weird and watching? And maybe he has a few lines that are just a little too smart and poignant, just to keep us wondering what’s going on behind his eyes. Someone who actually looks like a threat. I don’t find Jeremy threatening; he’s an obnoxious tweaked-out rich boy with a ponytail who took a few MMA classes.
Let’s talk about the scariest character. Oh, Rose. I wish I had this film on DVD already so I could watch Chris flip through her trophy box again. From what I remember, her appearance and clothing is different in every photo, for each of her victims. She went girl-next-door to snag Chris. It was a brilliant move to have her put up her hair into a taught sleek ponytail after the big reveal. Every moment after that, she is dressed like a young girl who goes to prep school. And can we talk about the scene of her listening to “I had the Time of My Life” while she has a snack of dry cereal – that she eats piece by piece, one at a time, one corner at a time – and a glass of milk with a straw? This girl lives for complete control. We are not surprised when she picks up a rifle to hunt down her boyfriend. We feel like she’d be fine with just hunting down her victims instead of giving them over to the brain-replacement procedure.
I also want to talk about how gorgeous the hypnosis sequences are. They slip between reality and nonreality effortlessly. The Sunken Place was beautifully designed, and I love the motif of a television being watched, a reminder of what inaction breeds. And how scary was that moment when Sissy says, “Now, sink into the floor. SINK.” I follow Jordan Peele on Instagram, and he just posted some dope fanart of these scenes.
So, did y’all see this one? What did you feel? Did it knock around your head for a few days? Did I miss anything in my discussion that needs to be talked about?
Until next time, kiddos.