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Edited by Robert Beach
It’s always been strange that black voices in horror are so thoroughly underrepresented. Maybe “strange” is the wrong word. The fact that black voices are marginalized in America has never been strange, just an abject tragedy and a national disgrace.
What I rather mean is that there’s almost no major standard barer for black horror, and its impact on the genre the way there is for, say, queer horror or Japanese horror. There have been a few entries with a broader appeal like the Candyman or Blackula films. Unless we stretch the definition to include Blade as a horror series, there’s really no classic of the genre defined by black creators and performers.
Finally, drought of black stars and creators of horror seems poised to change with the long-awaited release of Get Out, a racially charged horror thriller from Jordan Peele of the sketch comedy duo Key and Peele. The film has finally received its first trailer, and it’s a stunner.
I must say; I’m not sure what I expected from this movie, but it certainly wasn’t this. And yet, I’m certainly pleased with what we’ve got here. What’s most striking for me about this trailer isn’t so much the racially charged structure and subject matter, but just what a command of genre and cinematography Peele seems to have in this trailer.
While I’m a major Key & Peele fan, I had never associated the duo with the deeply unnerving anxiety and paranoia invoked by this trailer, or the surreal, nightmarish deconstruction of reality that spills forth in its final moments. It’s an amazing introduction to Peele’s talent for conception and execution within the genre.
As to the plot, the set-up is pretty classic for horror. I’ll get back to that in a bit. Chris, played by Daniel Kaluuya, visits the parents' home of his girlfriend Rose, played by Allison Williams. Her parents (most notably the father is played by Bradley Whitford) seem outwardly accepting of this union, even though they come from an affluent white background and their neighborhood exudes a sense of exclusionary discrimination.
However, as the trailer goes on, it becomes clear something very sinister is going on in this community. It has a history with missing black people, and it’s clear the few that are still left have been changed in a deeply unsettling way. As things deteriorate, we see flashes of a secret and terrifying world of the secluded, white, and affluent and how they prey on people of color.
It’s obvious from the start that the film is looking to externalizes the racially charged fears and tensions that inform the lives of Black men in America today. We see this right from the start when Chris is hassled by local cops over an accident he wasn’t even involved in.
That little scene is a major plot element for the trailer as it touches on how much the black experience, as it is, reflects what have become horror clichés. The idea that there’s no way the police would believe him works as a contrivance for most horror films, but here it’s all too tragically realistic.
As to my earlier comments about the classicism of this trailer, it’s most reminiscent of The Stepford Wives, a point of comparison I’m sure was intentional. If you haven’t seen it, The Stepford Wives is about an enlightened, liberated woman who moves to a new community where she suspects the men have been secretly replacing their wives with automated duplicates.
You can see threads of that idea sprinkled throughout this trailer with hints at hypnosis and surgery being used to mold the black visitors to the community into more servile versions of themselves. The whole structure of the newcomer to the strange community that’s secretly plotting against them is a major horror staple. But the Stepford Wives similarities feel so deliberate I have to assume it’s an allusion.
The big difference between Get Out and The Stepford Wives, aside from the change of viewpoint, is the pace and style. Stepford Wives, along with its spiritual predecessor The Wicker Man, were slow, deliberately methodical films of the ‘70s. They’re difficult to watch by modern standards.
By comparison, Get Out is a thoroughly modern approach to this idea, especially in that nightmarish final breakdown near the end of the trailer. The addition of hypnosis as a plot point is a superb call in how much it would allow the film to explore more surreal embodiments of its fears and anxieties.
What stands out to me, though, is the way the movie turns the trappings of preppy white privilege into the core components of its horror. Stuff like Chris being menaced with a lacrosse stick, the constant stag imagery, or even the gazebo gathering are all coded very white and deeply othering, even to a white guy like me.
At the center of a lot of that is Bradley Whitford, who walks a great line here between a relatably cool guy and creepy cult leader. Whitford was already in one of the decade’s best horror films with Cabin in the Woods; it’d be impressive if he managed to end up in two of the 2010s best entries in the genre.
We’ll obviously have to wait until February to see how Get Out actually shapes up, but this is a dynamite first trailer that throws down the gauntlet on what this movie is going to be. There’s a defiant blackness to the proceedings in the vein of Luke Cage or Atlanta that’s both uplifting and inspiring. It seems like we’ve had more movies, shows, and music lately that embraced black excellence and the black perspective as both a badge of honor and an act of bold defiance.
It’s clear we need these voices and have needed them for a long time, but it’s still deeply unfair that the very act of presenting a decidedly black point of view in a show or a song or a movie feels like an act of defiance, like just being black in America is prohibited. I’m glad we’re getting films like Get Out that are addressing this head on. Here’s hoping we can do the same in the real world too.
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