Geiger's Culture Counter: Jordan Peele changed the horror genre


I don’t watch horror movies often, whether on my home screen or the big screen. I rarely see them in theaters because they’re almost never worth the price of admission. The last one I saw in a cinema was “Paranormal Activity 4” in 2012. Yet I knew I had to see Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” as soon as possible.

Made by half of the comedic duo known for the sketch show “Key and Peele,” the horror film is a departure for the writer/director and a successful one at that. It currently sits at a 99% Rotten Tomato score, which makes it the highest rated film of 2017. Having a budget of only $4.5 million and an unusual non-October release, it has earned more than $147 million domestically. Unprecedented.

The film, described as “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” mixed with “The Stepford Wives,” showed for only a few days and I missed it. I was worried that I would never have the opportunity to see it the way Peele wanted it to be seen. (I strongly wish we had an indie art house theater but that’s another topic for another time.)

But then out of nowhere it came back a week later and I rushed to see it before it vanished again. There were only six other people in the room with me so I don’t think it was exactly the experience he was talking about.

Nevertheless, it was a fantastic one.

This column will now venture into spoiler territory because it’s next to impossible to discuss it without giving away details. So, pardon the pun, get out there and see it already. I’ll wait.

Did you see it? Are you still pumped with adrenaline and you can’t contain your emotions? Good.

A key to a great genre movie is to have social commentary. For instance, the science fiction film “District 9” is a metaphor for apartheid in South Africa. Horror films are no different. “It Follows” is about HIV/AIDS. “The Babadook” is about grief. “Get Out” highlights race relations in America.

When Rose Armitage brings her black boyfriend Chris Washington to meet her white family, they and their guests act in subtly racist and bigoted ways.

They don’t openly petition for slavery to return but they say things like, “Do you play golf? I know Tiger Woods.” Another guest commends Rose for dating Chris because “black is in fashion.” Rose’s brother told Chris he has “the frame and genetic disposition to be great at mixed-martial arts.”

Rose’s father Dean claims he’s not racist because he “would have voted for Obama for a third time” if he could have.

My eyes widened not because a knife-holding killer was creeping up the stairs behind the protagonist but because I couldn’t believe the off-handed statements. And I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in the theater who has heard similar phrases in real life.

Peele created a mirror for post-racial America. Just because we have a holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr., doesn’t mean racism is gone. Allies can unintentionally hurt those they are trying to aid.

It is later revealed that the weekend trip is an annual auction for Rose’s boyfriend. The winner will have their brain transferred to the new, younger host. Chris discovers he wasn’t the first black boyfriend Rose had and the family has been selling her dates for years.

“Get Out” is more psychologically frightening like a Hitchcock film than gruesome like something by Cronenberg or Carpenter.

The other key to breaking genre barriers is to go beyond the stereotypical tropes and subvert them. A large number of horror movies, particularly older ones, have the black character die first. Instead, Chris survives all the way to the end.

“Get Out” uses foreshadowing smartly and doesn’t play into the same pitfalls other horror films do. Each twist is genuine and not easy to guess.

Hours after I saw the film I was still playing scenes in my head. I realized that the Georgina said “cellular phone” instead of “cell phone” and didn’t understand the slang word “snitch” because it was Rose’s grandmother the entire time.

Her grandfather started the twisted experiment in the first place because he never got over loosing to Jesse Owens in the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics. That’s why the groundskeeper Walter, who has the grandfather’s consciousness, is seen running laps in the middle of the night.

Like Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit “Hamilton: An American Musical,” the people who should see this—an audience of people of color that it was made for— most likely won’t because of its limited availability. That’s sad and troubling. Thankfully Chicago hip-hop artist Chance the Rapper bought an entire day’s worth of screenings for a theater in February so any Chicagoan could see it for free. It’s a wonderful gesture, but unfortunately there aren’t enough Chances in the world.

With action films there was pre-“Mad Max: Fury Road” and post-“Fury Road.” Now we live in the post-“Get Out” world and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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