After looking at the slate of wide releases for this past weekend, I initially decided to skip my recently launched “A Weekend in the Cinema” series out of a sheer lack of desire to see more than one of the movies (no offense to Collide and Rock Dog – an animated flick literally about a rock-and-roll playing dog – but like, nah b)…that is, until I actually saw the sole offering of interest, Get Out.
A few months back, I wrote a long diatribe likening – for better and for worse – Marvel Studios with Blumhouse Productions. Though the latter’s work always bears appealing stylizations, they’ve recently become a bit monotonous in regards to content and intent; namely, their increasingly derivative supernatural tales deploy the same cheap (sometimes effective) tricks in service of nothing more substantive than jump scares. The persistently profitable model of Blumhouse – a movie studio perpetually in search of filling their coffers ever higher – makes criticizing their gradually more familiar output feel naively idealistic. Even so, I nevertheless posited that Blumhouse could be showered with even greater riches if they allowed their visibly talented directors (remember that style) to flex their creative muscles on original stories worthy of their skill.
Well like manna from heaven – or, in this case, hell – along comes Jordan Peele’s Get Out, ushered to the big screen by none other than Blumhouse. Deviating from the vast majority of their vapid ventures, Peele understands the most effective horror movies are always those that excavate through allegorical exaggeration the most horrifying societal truths. For his first directorial outing, he deconstructs – perhaps even destroys – the seemingly harmless yet potentially insidious pretenses of the white, wealthy, liberal bubble. Though their community initially appears like merely the epitome of superficial tolerance, the devastating consequences of their carnivorous cultural tendencies – ones that can be stretched to connect to everything from gentrification to appropriation – provide the real fear as the story unfolds. By establishing the clear parameters of the allegory early, the subsequent, heightening terror stems less from needing to shallowly up the scare ante (usually achieved through everything from jump scares to mindless gore) and more from the audience tracking the allegory farther down the twisted rabbit hole, all the while connecting – both pitch-black humorously and literally violently – the horrific hyperbole on the screen to the equally horrific implications on the society waiting just outside the theater.
One of the most meaningful allegorical ideas is that of the blind art dealer who evaluates compositions through others explaining their vision of the pieces to him. Since he’s tasked with the horror convention of the villain explaining the evildoers’ plot (the rationale he employs for doing so is one of the many joyous send-ups of the genre contained herein), he can be considered the big baddie and thus represent the malicious ideas at the heart of this story’s enemies. In the same way that he relies on “others” to preserve his successful status quo, so too must suburban hotbeds of faux-liberality – like the town in which the movie’s set – preserve their societally crucial PC-credibility by at least keeping up the appearance of diversity, of “others” being in their midst in a classic example of “the ladies (and men) do proclaim too much.”
Yet unlike NYC – the hometown of the ultimate hero, the TSA agent who, for his allegorical part, has a distinct personality unlike the hypnotized (read: forcibly gentrified) black people of the town AND someone whose job it is to permit diversity, and thus a multiplicity of co-existing perspectives into the country – this seemingly accepting but deep down restrictive society wants to cherry pick the strengths of others while still controlling their perspectives by fully integrating them into their cultures to the degree that they subsume their identities – both physical and psychological – to the white majority. By refusing to forsake ANY control of their surroundings by admitting the unknown differences of others, they’re deep down as blind to the benefits of diversity as the literal blind man is to the world around him.
It’s very telling that said blind man’s – again, the “antagonist’s” – response to why they were targeting black people (as opposed to literally anyone else) is, “I want those things you see through,” referring to his eyes. On the surface, he craves to see again, but in taking over the mind and body of someone else, he can – literally and allegorically – remove the black people from their own perspective through – again, literal and allegorical – whitewashing of the psyche, which in turn whitewashes their behavior to “fit in” or, yes, get out. Taking the metaphor a step further (down into hell), Peele seems to subtly suggest that the root of this need to control stems from the original sin of white America: slavery. The boogiemen wanting to inflict on others what they wouldn’t want done to themselves is an age-old horror trope; usually, that entails literal killing, but here, it encompasses the death of the black mind through hypnosis that forces the victim to revisit their deepest guilt attached to their foundational memories swept into the darkest recesses of their psyches.
The same can be said of white America and slavery: the more that black people are given a free voice, the more likely it is that they bring up such uncomfortable-for-whites concepts as reparations for their past inhumane treatment – that which contributed to the founding of America, particularly the fruits of unpaid labor providing the bedrock to establishing the country’s initial economy, especially in the agricultural south (and subsequently the building of infrastructure). Like much of America, many of the white, wealthy families depicted here probably enjoy the benefits of inherited wealth that may have been stained with the blood of the enslaved ancestors of contemporary, far poorer black people; fittingly, when the main couple first approach the sight of future misdeeds, Peele cinematically introduces the southern-looking estate – plantation-esque, emphasized by the black groundskeeper working the land – with all the genre trappings associated with a haunted house. White America’s “Sunken Place” – the culture’s original sin that they desperately want to avoid – is their repressed guilt regarding the lingering legacy of slavery (it’s no coincidence that Peele includes basically a slave auction scene in the proceedings).
And now, I must end by giving Blumhouse its due. For the first time in a while, they’ve used their platform to share a wholly new voice in their genre with the masses. Yet far more important than my kudos, this investment is already returning profitable dividends for them; Get Out‘s 5 million budget has already become 80 million in box office receipts, and with sterling word of mouth, it will most probably sustain this initial success for weeks to come.
Truthfully, I was a bit nervous during the first few minutes of Get Out – despite the hype – not because of anything overtly terrifying (far from it), but because the introductory scenes conform to the hollow woodenness of most Blumhouse fare; I geared up for another of their usual disappointments full of superb acting, stylish direction, and an intriguing concept, all marred by tired execution. Yet when literal shit hit the allegorical fan, I realized that Peele had been setting up the audience by intentionally making them feel like something was amiss because, as the rest of the movie attests to, something IS seriously amiss in many pockets of America’s race relations. By granting Peele free reign to actualize his vision, Blumhouse pulled off a minor coup of forcing unsuspecting audiences used to mindless, entertaining horror to grapple with the truly frightening aspects of their lives, cheap jump scare free. What keeps us awake at night should not be irrational nightmares, but the legitimately abhorrent ways that our cultures can inspire us to view and thus potentially treat each other. The real-world implications of the ideas entrenched in American society that Get Out explores are the epitome of true horror.