When you look at the league of stunning directorial debuts, titles like The Evil Dead, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Mad Max, Reservoir Dogs, Hunger, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Fruitvale Station, Cronos, Animal Kingdom, Night Of The Living Dead, Attack The Block, Monster, Citizen Kane, The Iron Giant and The Babadook are just some of the names that leap to mind. The filmmakers responsible for them – Raimi, Del Toro, McQueen, Romero, Tarantino – have gone on to become some of our greats and it’s rare you watch a film and know someone has confidently strolled in to join their ranks. With his debut feature, Get Out, Jordan Peele has done that.
To say it has been a hit is an understatement: it’s already grossed more than $100M in the US and it hasn’t even been released to the rest of the world yet. The fact it has made its budget back more than 30x over is inconsequential. If it hadn’t have hit at the box-office like, say, The Descent, you could see it going on to become such a beloved and timeless classic like that film as well. Why? Put simply, it’s exquisite filmmaking. Like the sketch show from which he found mainstream fame (Key and Peele), Get Out’s strong political and social message never comes at the expense of entertainment. It’s funny, it’s creepy, it’s riveting, it’s horrifying and – more than anything – it’s exceedingly smart. So smart, in fact, that Peele has crafted layer upon layer of meaning into every single frame in Get Out. Repeat viewings are going to offer something new to the viewer every time as, like a babushka doll, the film continues to open up.
There’s a reason people praise directors when a film succeeds and are quick to scold them when a film fails. They have much of the power and control when it comes to how a film looks and how a film flows. For Emmy-winner Peele, Get Out is triple as impressive because he serves as writer, director and producer. The idea that he manages to not only do but master all three tasks – and not get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work required in each – is testament to his skill as an artist. He doesn’t sleep on a single frame, with the story and dialogue communicating on one level while the visuals communicate simultaneously on another. There’s a deer that is hit by the leading man Chris’ car early in the film, something that goes on to have multiple layers of meaning as we learn more about the death of his mother (also from hit and run) and Bradley Whitford’s character vocally sharing his opinion that male deers (“black bucks”) need to be eradicated as they’re pests. That long-running piece of symbolism comes into play in the first, second and final third of the film as the outcome of both Chris and Whitford’s characters links up to one very particular buck. There’s the language used throughout – often whole phrases throwing back to lines and mottos from the KKK and America’s very racist history – plus more modern pieces of social horror, like the fear we feel for a young black man (LaKeith Stanfield) walking through an affluent white suburb. From the overt (a police officer demonstrating prejudice) to the covert (the colour schemes of red and blue used for costumes throughout), Get Out’s sharpest weapon is its intelligence.
With reports that Peele is continuing his directorial career for another four “social thrillers”, that can only mean positive things for worldwide audiences. As a filmmaker, he has a lot to say and an innate understanding of how the horror genre can be used to say it. Historically, minorities have always been cast to the margins in horror. As Ashlee Blackwell from Graveyard Shift Sisters puts it, they have been limited to the sassy best friend, the comic relief or the first to die. With a black filmmaker telling black stories and most importantly – from a Hollywood perspective (it is called show business, after all) – making a huge amount of profit doing it, the future of horror isn’t only black but it’s looking stronger than it has since John Carpenter and Wes Craven were in their prime.
Maria Lewis is a journalist and author who can be seen on The Feed, weeknights on SBS Viceland. She’s the presenter and producer of the Eff Yeah Film & Feminism podcast. Her debut novel Who’s Afraid? was released in 2016 with the sequel – Who’s Afraid Too? – out now. You can find her on Twitter @MovieMazz.