As the Oscar nomination announcement creeps closer and closer (23rd of January, for those who missed the smoke signal), the Hollywood whispers are already hissing through the ears of the internet about who could be up for the revered Best Picture Academy Award. Dunkirk appears to be charging forward with the greatest steam, but both The Post and Lady Bird are not far behind, nibbling at its heels in hunger, remaining anyone’s race at this early stage.
However, there is another title bubbling slightly further below the surface, causing enough noise to turn certain heads, even if the odds do not seem to be quite as favorable as those previously mentioned. As you would have already guessed by the title of this article, I am talking about Get Out. Primarily known for his Key & Peele comedy television show, what is remarkable about this film, is that it’s not only Jordan Peele’s debut, but is also not an exclusively comedic vision either. Instead, it’s primarily a psychological ride, ambitious and unpredictable with a script so original, the unfamiliarity of the synopsis alone can cause discomfort.
It tells the story of Chris (performed impeccably by Skins/Black Mirror actor Daniel Kaluuya), a black man going on a weekend trip to meet his white girlfriend’s parents for the first time. While Chris initially finds the upper-middle-class family to be a little overbearing with their excessive hospitality, the dark truths behind their history gradually reveal themselves to be far more sinister than any of us had envisioned.
What makes Get Out such an uncommon accomplishment of rich cinematic storytelling, is that it hits hard with its concept from the very beginning and manages to carry itself at the same height, right until the end. It achieves these results by continuously drip feeding the audience with new bits of information, yet refusing to follow any standard plot formula – which means that we can never quite work out where it might be going. Instead, each surprise is revealed without too many preceding clues and almost every discovery is one we wouldn’t have expected.
How Peele manages to pull off such a unique product without breaking the boundaries of coherence or belief, can (in my opinion) be broken down into two distinct characteristics: the genre manipulation, and the sincere cultural observations. Looking at the genre first, Get Out is officially recognized as a horror-comedy, of which the very term feels like a contradiction, or at least one that is hardly ever executed in any satisfactory manner.
The reason why it is such a difficult classification, is because laughter and screaming are two opposite expressions from two opposite emotions – and how can we possibly skip from one to the other without tripping over the rope? It seems unlikely to walk away from a flick being both legitimately scared and humored at the same time, which is why on paper, it looks like an impossible feat to correctly balance.
However, Get Out just about manages to keep the harmony without toppling over, and how it does so is by keeping the two sides separate. Actor Lil Rel Howery does his part as the comedy-relief character perfectly. While appearing on screen, you know his presence signals a time to clown around, and we can all relax in a quick distraction from the film’s dreaded pragmatism. That said, when he is nowhere to be seen, all bets are off and the horror is more likely to strike at any given moment with quick and unforgiving panic.
When evaluating the horror aspect on its own, the film may lose a few points by occasionally utilizing the overused Hollywood jump-scare tactic, demanding a fright rather than earning it. That said, this is not Get Out’s only horror trick and it definitely does not rely on these scares alone. It’s most powerful approach of inducing horror is to build up a freaky suspense by asking questions faster than answering them. Which it admirably does so, without ever forcing out the gore simply to shock the audience into an emotional response. All of which conspires together as a truly unsettling horror film, a work of art desperately needed in our current age – where the horror genre itself has become tiresome and predictably thin.
And yet how it remains eerie whilst keeping a flow of natural jokes rolling, a dramatic suspense swelling, and a load unexpected thrills misdirecting our theories, is nothing short of success. This movie defies any set style while weaving into one of the greatest scary films of the last 20 years. Even more important than its stylistic flexibility, would be the aforementioned cultural observations within its social commentary.
As the key central plot revolves around a black man who is often seen dealing with the ignorant perceptions of white liberals, the viewer can’t help but squirm from discomfort during these awkward exchanges alone. That said, it never appears to use the black/white dynamic as a tool of attack. Rather, the racial aspect was used to enhance a story which was already there, addressing these issues to help direct a great picture without feeling the need to end with some preachy punchline. Because of such, Get Out is arguably one of the most current and poignant films of the decade, recognizing the frustration minorities constantly deal with in today’s political climate.
Addressing the problems with a tasteful, insightful, and playful approach, prioritizing a great story over some moral lesson, naturally, crafted an instant smash from every critical angle. Peele manages to turn a small $4.5 million budget into an explosive $254.3 million box office profit, becoming the highest-grossing debut original screenplay in history, beating the Blair Witch Project – which had held strong for two decades.
Furthermore, its list of accolades are already crowding the shelves, from a Best Motion Picture Golden Globe nomination (result pending) to the seven MTV Movie & TV Awards noms it received in May 2017 – winning two of them. For these reasons, an Academy Award nomination not only seems fair, but almost imperative.
Get Out was never trying to be an Oscar film. It followed none of the rules, by not telling some tragic historical biographical tale, by not pretentiously running over two hours in duration, and by not taking itself too seriously. At the same time, it provides all the criteria that any Academy Award film should adhere to, by tackling relevant modern concerns, fiercely checking every production value box we asked for (the casting, the acting, the directing, the screenplay etc), all while being one helluva entertaining ride. Not to mention, that the last horror flick to win Best Picture was 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs, which would make Get Out a gloriously atypical Oscar choice.
So, to the Academy… please do the right thing and nominate this far more exciting social commentary epic over many of the other (more predictable) options churning within the rumor mill. Do your best not to disappoint.
By Jared Woods