In the Watch This Next column, Man of Many takes a look back at a great TV show or film that may have slipped under your radar. Given the near-limitless entertainment options in the Netflix era, it’s easy to overlook amazing content in favour of the latest hit. For every Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad or Stranger Things, there’s another thing equally worthy of attention and we make the case for why you should watch it and where you can find it.
‘If I could, I would have voted for Obama for a third term.’ – Dean Armitage, ‘Get Out’
As the American humourist Erma Bombeck once described, ‘there is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humour and hurt.’ The same could be said for comedy and horror, two genres with a distinct and enduring cinematic relationship. From ‘Scream’ and ‘Scary Movie’ to ‘Cabin in the Woods’, what seem strange bedfellows are in fact perfectly harmonious – both rely on the value of surprise for their dramatic impact and are often best characterised by a certain surrealist quality.
So it’s proven for Jordan Peele, better known as one half of the American comedy duo Key and Peele, who has made his directorial feature debut with the sharply funny horror film ‘Get Out’. It’s searing social and racial satire dressed up as a psychological thriller that manages to deliver on both fronts.
Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a 20-something African-American about to spend the weekend with his white girlfriend Rose (‘Girls’ Alison Williams) and her rich, WASP-y parents at their secluded upstate mansion. Despite their warm welcome, Chris soon begins to suspect something is amiss due to the strange behaviour of the family and their black staff.
It’s a classic horror film setup, but used here as a jumping board to explore the lingering tensions in modern, middle-class American race relations. The house itself, the setting for a majority of the film, deliberately recalls a slavery-era plantation house, and Peele imbues the film with the full weight of both historical and modern racism.
Yet it’s a far cry from ‘Missisippi Burning’, instead opting to explore the more insidious racism of liberal American society. Rose’s parents, played by Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener, a neurosurgeon and hypnotherapist respectively, ostensibly represent the kind of well-meaning but misplaced curiosity indicative of a type of ‘enlightened’ race relations that still unwittingly casts African-Americans as ‘other’.
There’s nods to social satires like ‘Pleasantville’ and ‘The Stepford Wives’, but ‘Get Out’ is also charged with Peele’s finely-tuned understanding of both racial awareness and modern horror tropes. A natural master of tone, Peele manages to navigate from sketch comedy to genuine psychological horror, often between scenes, without ever diminishing the film’s thematic impact.
‘Get Out’ marks the latest and arguably most successful outing for Blumhouse Productions, who are quietly revolutionising Hollywood horror with a low-budget, high-output approach to filmmaking. It’s a tactic that has yielded great success in the form of ‘Paranormal Activity’ and M Night Shyamalan’s recent ‘Split’, but ‘Get Out’ has eclipsed both in box office success and critical reception.
The film has already returned $250m from a budget of just $4.5m, becoming the highest-grossing film directed by an African-American in US history. It’s also the highest-grossing original debut film of all time, breaking the long-standing record held by ‘The Blair Witch Project’.
But ‘Get Out’s greatest impact will surely be in the social sphere: opening a much-needed dialogue on modern race relations and serving as required viewing for those looking to understand the experience of African-Americans through the comic lens of a director uniquely equipped to express it.
‘Get Out’ is currently in cinemas in Australia and will be released on home entertainment on 16/8/17.