While there is much debate on Get Out’s categorization as a horror film, it’s undeniable that the film elicits fear and anxiety, both of which are at the heart of the horror genre. The reason for debate around its genre lies staunchly in its proximity to the real world. However, as the horror genre has proved time and time again, many horror films utilize real-world fears in real-world contexts. Jordan Peele, director of the film, has coined Get Out as a “social thriller” among many other iconic horror films of the past. Social thrillers and horror movies aren’t mutually exclusive, but rather social thrillers can be seen as a subgenre of horror, wherein the "ultimate villain is society" (Peele).
Get Out’s horror doesn’t rely on ghosts or the supernatural but rather on the real-life horror of racism in American society. Race has always been one of America’s most glaring issues since it’s inception as a nation. The scars that a history of colonialism, slavery, and racism has left on the country is indelible. With rampant issues infringing on the lives of people of color, especially that of black people, conversations around racism are continually at the front of many minds. Peele takes this overwhelming concern in society and translates it into a horror film to reflect the real-world fears that come with being black in America, one that’s rarely tackled in the horror genre.
When Peele originally conceived of the film it was during what he calls the “post-racial lie” of the Obama era. However, by the time filming began and the movie came out racial tensions had risen and the conversations around racism were growing (Vanity Fair). In the years preceding Get Out’s release, tragic events such as the loss of many black lives at the hands of the police were being increasingly recognized, prompting the formation of the Black Lives Matter movement. With this and a presidential election that many cite as worsening race relations among many other events, the state of the nation led to the rise of important dialogue concerning race.
As rhetoric and discussion around race were heightened around the time of Get Out's release, the film was able to add to such conversations. On using the medium of film and the horror genre, Peele states:
“If you do a lecture about race or some social issue, people feel like maybe you’re talking down to them, like you’re forcing your views on them. If you lead with entertainment, if you get the laugh, if you get the scream, if an audience is propelled to stand and cheer because something happens, then the point is already made and the audience is left to think about why that happened. What truth did that hit on?”
Thus, Peele’s reliance on the horror genre to reveal truths echoes the history of horror films reflecting societal fears in an easily understood and felt way, except this time offering a new perspective that’s often neglected in the horror genre. In view of the many negative portrayals and tropes involving black people in horror films throughout history, Peele's Get Out marks progress for the genre by reflecting the horrors of the black experience in the US.
For more information on the history of black horror films watch: Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror
What sets Get Out apart from many other horror films is its use of a different perspective that's central to the horror of the film. Being from the perspective of Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), an African-American man, the film places the audience in his shoes as he goes to meet his white girlfriend’s family for the first time. By doing so, Peele aligns the audience with Chris’s views and feelings, allowing for the anxiety, unease, and fear that he feels as the film escalates to be projected onto the audience. Consequently, the point-of-view of the film is arguably one of the most important aspects of Get Out’s horror and success. With the horror of the film revolving around racism, the only way to effectively emulate this horror is by providing a black perspective to explore the anxieties and fears that come with being black in America. As Jordan Peele has stated in an interview:
“I wanted to make something that has a perspective that you don’t often see, but I also wanted it to be an inclusive movie. That’s the power of story and genre. You can ask a white person to see the world through the eyes of a black person for an hour and a half.”
Most of the narrative of the film is seen from Chris’s point-of-view, with the audience finding things out as he does for the most part, creating a natural sympathy and alliance with his character. As a film that functions on terror, meaning that it relies on suspense and the uncanny, this method is especially important. From Chris’s unease at surmising that the Armitage family has only black workers to his subsequent discomfort in witnessing Georgina and Walter’s strange behavior throughout the film, the audience is forced to feel the same unease that he does. By placing Chris at the center of the film and surrounding him with a bunch of white characters, the audience is made to understand his anxiety, a notion resounded explicitly when Chris says:
“All I know is sometimes, if there’s too many white people, I get nervous, you know?”
Thus, Peele doesn’t rely on fiction to create horror but rather relies on real-life experiences to create situations that make Chris and the audience suspicious and uncomfortable, a method that wouldn’t work in this case if it wasn’t told from a black perspective. The conflict isn’t man versus monster but rather man versus society as a monster. Chris is the protagonist of the film while the Armitage family and their guests are the antagonists that serve as a microcosm for the racist society and system at large.
The Armitage family puts on the appearance of being warm and welcoming, but their behavior is shrouded in many microaggressions, most of which Chris brushes off because of how used to it he is. This is exemplified in the scene where Rose is angry at her family’s behavior after dinner but Chris remains calm because he was expecting such behavior. While there are many scenes that include microaggressions that create discomfort, the more unsettling and chilling moments of the film are reserved for Chris’s interactions with Georgina and Walter, the only other two black people at the Armitage household. It’s their behavior that really allows Chris to distinguish between the usual microaggressions he faces and the reality that there’s something more sinister happening here, with the eerie music underscoring such moments. This distinction shows the audience how those seemingly harmless microagressions actually hint towards something darker and malicious underneath, mirroring how such subtle racism in society speaks to a more sinister racist system underneath.
This use of perspective is what makes the final scene so impactful. The audience fears for Chris's life as what we perceive to be a cop car arrives while Chris is choking Rose. Peele relies on the audience's knowledge of relations between the police and black people to create fear, as the audience immediately expects the worst. We are led to expect Chris to be the one villainized despite being the victim, simply because of his race. As Chris stands up with his hands up, the audience takes on his sense of defeat. The black perspective of the film makes the presence of the police a negative, as their perceived arrival would involve the endangerment of our protagonist rather than a source of help. Consequently, when it's revealed that it's actually Rod, our sense of relief is made even more significant.
Photography and Framing Perspective
Throughout the film, photography is a motif that speaks to the importance of the black perspective. The film first introduces Chris as a photographer by showing the variety of black and white photographs he has taken that display the beauty of scenes in everyday life. When Chris goes to the Armitage house he brings along his camera. There are several scenes in which Chris uses his camera to observe his surroundings, with Peele using point-of-view shots to emphasize Chris’s perspective. He uses his camera to observe Georgina and Walter in moments where they don’t realize they’re being watched, which further reveals to him their strange behaviors and positions in the household. Chris also uses his camera while at the party, where he’s able to observe the guests. The connection between Chris and cameras throughout the film brings more explicit attention to the centrality of his perspective to the film.
The explicit focus on Chris's perspective becomes even more significant when it’s revealed that Jim Hudson, the blind gallery owner, intends to be transplanted into Chris’s body for his eyes. When Chris first meets Jim, Jim comments on the fact that Chris has a “good eye” for photography, a comment that quickly turns dark when it’s realized that that’s his motivation for wanting to be transferred into Chris’s body through the coagula process. It speaks to a larger theme of oppression in the film, as Jim wants to have control of Chris's body to have access to his eyes and talent, reflecting the domination and control of the white perspective over the black perspective in American society.
The camera is further highlighted in the film when the flash from Chris’s phone camera “awakens” Andre from his imposed, oppressive trance as Logan. In this sense, the camera flash can be seen as returning Andre’s perspective and breaking his hypnosis, as he becomes lucid in that moment and uses his brief freedom from being controlled to tell Chris to “get out.” Chris uses this tactic once again at the end of the film to “awaken” Walter and allow him to gain control, returning his perspective and agency. Thus, the camera and photography become a symbol for emphasizing and bringing forward the black perspective.
The oppression of black people is a central theme of Get Out, one that largely informs the horror created by the film. Peele illustrates this theme both explicitly and implicitly. He explicitly exposes this theme through the main narrative of the film, wherein black people are literally kidnapped, brainwashed, and subjugated to the will of white people. He implicitly demonstrates this theme by including many symbols and images that speak to the theme of oppression.
The Sunken Place
The Sunken Place is a physical manifestation of the system of oppression. It depicts the voicelessness and powerlessness of Chris as he falls into a black void with his white oppressors looking down on him from above. The sunken place can be seen as a symbol of systemic racism and the systems of oppression at work against black people. Point-of-view shots are used once again as the audience sees through Chris’s eyes as he looks up toward his white oppressors, unable to fight back.
Evocations of Slavery
Peele includes many scenes and images that are reminiscent of slavery in his film. For instance, when Chris and Rose first arrive at the Armitage house, the first thing they see when they pull up to the colonial-style home is black groundskeeper Walter raking the lawn. This is a subtle evocation of slavery imagery that is similarly evoked once again when Chris sees Georgina in the kitchen.
The hints of slavery become more noticeable leading to the climax of the film, where it’s revealed that a silent auction is taking place to sell Chris’s body, like a modern-day slave trade wherein black people are both mentally and physically enslaved through the coagula process.
Finally, when Chris is tied up in preparation for the transplantation, he picks the cotton stuffing from the armchair to plug his ears to avoid being hypnotized. The cotton connotes strong images of slavery, except in this scenario he uses this typical symbol of slavery to escape to freedom.
The idea that everything is not what it seems is a notion that pervades Get Out. There’s a duality to the characters, scenes, and dialogue wherein on the surface it seems one way but underneath it’s another.
A lot of the dialogue in Get Out has an explicit and implicit meaning, of which the implicit meaning is usually much more sinister and can be gauged only on a second viewing. The subtextual dialogue can be seen in Dean's dialogue about the deer at the beginning of the film and in the following instances:
“That’s the basement. We had to seal it up. We got some black mold down there.” - Dean Armitage
“My mother loved the kitchen, so we keep a piece of her in here.” - Dean Armitage
These are just a few of the many instances of the layered dialogue of Get Out. This mechanism adds to the uneasiness felt while watching and makes for an optimal second-viewing.
While the entire Armitage family and their guests put on a thinly veiled non-threatening appearance throughout the film, Rose's character is perhaps the most dramatic evocation of the theme of appearances vs reality.
For most of the film Rose has a bubbly, playful persona that's reflected in everything from the way she dresses to the way she speaks. However, by the end of the film when it's revealed that she's actually a master manipulator and perhaps the most devious of her family, her entire persona changes to reveal her true self, the difference as stark as night and day. Her appearance changes to a very rigid, robotic look that complements her expressionless face and emotionless voice. The name "Rose" is symbolic of her character's artifice. On the outside she seems nice and sweet to hide her thorniness underneath.