Peele trades in the laughs for genuine, gripping fear in his 'social thriller'
Comedies and horrors are similar in ways, insists director as he tackles race head on in Get Out
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Jordan Peele learned how to scare people by making them laugh. As characters like Funkenstein’s Monster on the popular sketch show Key & Peele he investigated popular culture, ethnic stereotypes and race relations through a satirical lens.
Get Out, his directorial debut, however, contains few laughs. By design. It’s a horror film about college students Rose and Chris, played by Allison Williams and Daniel Kaluuya. Things are getting serious and it’s time to meet the parents.
“Do they know I’m black?” he asks. She assures him race is a non-issue as they head to her leafy up-state hometown to meet parents Missy and Dean (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford). After a few days Chris feels uneasy, a sensation compounded by an alarming call from his best friend. “I’ve been doing my research and a whole lot of brothers have gone missing in that suburb,” he says. Chris wonders if his hosts are racist and deadly or just racist.
“It’s a horror movie from an African American’s perspective,” Peele told Forbes.com.
While working on the script Peele sought advice from Sean of the Dead director Edgar Wright and other genre filmmakers but says ultimately his career in comedy was the best training to make a horror film.
Making people laugh, he declares, and scaring the pants off them share a similar skill set. Both are all about pacing, reveals and both must feel like they take place in reality he says.
His love of horror dates back to watching A Nightmare on Elm Street as a teen. It was the first movie that really terrified him. Since then, he says the first sight of Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs really frightened him.
“You come down the hallway, and he’s just waiting for you,” he told the New York Times. “It’s the protagonist in motion and something waiting for him, patiently and calmly. Those are so chilling to me.”
Get Out isn’t a typical horror film, however. Peele refers to it as a “social thriller,” a movie that veers away from the Nightmare on Elm Street thrills that made such an impression on him as a teen. Instead the main villain is something more insidious than even the slash-happy Freddy Kruger; it’s racial tension. He says the story is personal but is quick to add it speedily veers off from anything strictly autobiographical. Instead it is an exploration of racism in all its forms he hopes will ultimately be relatable for his audience no matter who they are.
He compares Chris’s anxiety to Sidney Poitier’s classic Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. In that film parents, played by Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, have their attitudes challenged when their daughter introduces them to her African American fiancé. He says the uncomfortable situation of meeting in-laws for the first time is universal.
“The layer of race that enriches and complicates that tension (in the film) becomes relatable,” he told GQ. “It’s made to be an inclusive movie. If you don’t go through the movie with the main character, I haven’t done my job right.”
Richard Crouse's Weekend Ratings
Get Out: 4 STARS
A United Kingdom: 3 STARS
The Girl With All The Gifts: 4 STARS
I Am Not Your Negro: 4 STARS
Dying Laughing: 2 STARS