Get Out, the Oscars, and the Horror Genre

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Get Out has scored big in the 2018 Oscar race. The film has been nominated for Best Picture, Jordan Peele has been nominated for Best Director, and Daniel Kaluuya has been nominated for Lead Actor.

If Get Out wins Best Picture, it will be the only horror movie, other than 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs, to do so. Recently, there has been an ongoing debate as to whether or not Get Out is a horror picture. From the get-go, I have stuck with the belief that Get Out is indeed a horror film. AMC’s FilmSite defines horror films as, “unsettling films designed to frighten and panic, cause dread and alarm, and to invoke our hidden worse fears, often in a terrifying, shocking finale, while captivating and entertaining us at the same time in a cathartic experience.”

The definition is pretty standard, and Get Out certainly fits into it, despite the fact that it was placed in the comedy category at the Golden Globes.   Peele was quoted in Newsweek as saying about comedy and horror, “They’re both about truth,” adding, “If you are not accessing something that feels true, you’re not doing it right…you have to be very tuned into the audience and their emotion.”

Get Out works so well as a horror film because it hits all of the right psychological notes, specifically pertaining to racism and white liberals’ compliance. In that regard, Get Out stands with some of the best horror films, the ones that are keenly aware of their audience and issues pertaining to their time periods.

I will be rooting for Get Out to snag some Oscars. I’ll also be rooting for The Shape of Water, a film that leads the Oscar race in nominations and borrows much from the Universal Monsters golden age.

 

Can Get Out Snag an Oscar?

 

It’s rare for horror movies to be in the running for an Oscar.  The genre has been around since the early stages of film and underwent its first Golden Age during the 1930s Universal Studios run, which were films heavily influenced by the 1920s German Expressionist films like Nosferatu. Yet, despite its connection to film history, it has largely been shut out of the Oscars. IMDB has a list of horror/suspense films that have been nominated over the years, and less than 50 films make the list. Some of the films do not fall directly into the genre of horror, since the list combines horror with suspense, and some of the films, like Frankenweenie, are questionable. The only horror film to win for Best Picture was Silence of the Lambs. The Exorcist was nominated, but it didn’t win.

There is a chance that Get Out can change the trend and snag a possible Best Picture nomination and win. Some buzz has already been building, including this recent article by Slate. Directed by Jordan Peele, the film grossed over $200 million worldwide and analyzes thorny racial issues in the U.S. It is the perfect movie for the era of the NFL protests and Black Lives Matter. Beyond that, the film rewrites a lot of the horror tropes and conventions.

The film centers around college students Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), as they travel upstate to visit her parents in rural America. On the surface, Rose’s parents act progressive and appear happy that their white daughter is dating a black guy. Her father says more than once that he voted for Obama, as though that absolves him of any racial prejudices. The film is unique in the sense that Peele takes supposedly affluent progressive liberals to task for claiming to be social justice warriors, but harboring their own prejudices. The film has its comedic elements, too, especially through Chris’ best friend, Andrew (Lakeith Stanfield), who constantly warns Chris that a black man visiting a white girl’s parents in rural America is a recipe for disaster. Andrew also reiterates a lot of the horror movie tropes, namely that the black characters are often the first picked off, especially in the 1970s and 80s slasher films. More importantly, the film shows how the past constantly  haunts the present, which is a fundamental element of Gothic literature and film. The plantation-like setting and one of the film’s main plot points showcases that idea.

The film has a methodical pace, building tension scene by scene, from the beginning, when Chris and Rose are pulled over by a white officer  who questions Chris for no reason, to the jarring conclusion that echoes a greater fear that police officers can kill young black men without penalty.

I can’t think of a film that better addresses the current racial tensions than Get Out. Great horror films serve as a metaphor for our social anxieties and the cultural fears. Peele’s film does just that, while adding some humor. Get Out is a film that should be analyzed and addressed for years, just like James Whale’s Frankenstein, John Carpenter’s Halloween, Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. All of those films rewrote the genre, and Peele’s film does that, especially the  conclusion. Normal order is not necessarily restored, a tradition common to horror films, especially during the first wave or two. It is also a film that calls out the progressive left as much as it does the right.

In general, the Academy has had a disdain for horror. IMDB’s list proves that. But every now and then, a film comes along that draws mass appeal and becomes part of the broader conversation. Get Out is such a film.