Warning: this contains plot points galore about Get Out, so tread lightly. For a safer read, check out our spoiler-free review from last week.
It’s official: After a week of buzz in which it racked up a near-perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes, Jordan Peele’s horror film Get Out dominated the weekend box office bringing in more than $30 million. While it’s not uncommon for low-budget scare fare to do wellespecially for Get Out studio Blumhouse, which seems to specialize in tiny overperformersthis one transcended the usual genre audience and became a vehicle of mass catharsis. (It also got some blowback from certain predictable corners of the internet.)
Now that it’s got a weekend under its belt, though, we thought we’d wade in a little deeper. The movie didn’t leave too many questions unresolved, but it did give viewers plenty to chew on. Have we not been giving the TSA enough credit? Is “Behold the Coagula” the new “#staywoke”? What the hell happened to the guy from Atlanta? WIRED senior editor Peter Rubin and writer Kelli Rubin (yes, they’re married) saw the movie on opening night, and they’ve got some thoughts.
Peter Rubin: First off, Kelli, I have a hard time thinking of the last time we were both so excited for the same movie. Best Man Holiday, maybe? We’re huge Key & Peele fans (the Shining-inspired “Continental Breakfast” sketch being among our mutual favorites), so this has been on our radar for a while now. When Jordan Peele tweeted out the first trailer for Get Out last October, my first reaction was that I couldn’t get over the way it refused to turn into a comedy. It took away the wink, which made its satire feel even sharper, and it seemed like it had the potential to be more incisive than most comedies about race and racism in America.
Now, obviously, the finished product has comedy in it, most of it thanks to Lil Rel Howery’s hilarious performance as Chris’ best friend Rod, but it’s still very much a movie that trades on mounting uneaseboth Chris and our own as viewers. Throughout the film, in fact, it seems like the enemy changes. In the first act, the creeping menace is uncertainty, Chris’ assumption that something is going to go wrong out in the exurbs with his girlfriend’s white family; in the second, it’s that weird benign strain of racism, a deluge of “Can I touch your hair?” presumptions and earnest white-liberal blunders that we’ve been on the receiving end of often as an interracial couple; in the third, though, things truly go off the rails. Meanwhile, the entire movie is a grab-bag of horror tropes, from jump scares to flickering TVs to creepy half-open doors. So I guess my first question for you is: How did Get Out’s commitment to horror affect its overall impact?
Kelli Rubin: The second I saw the trailer I knew we’d be in for something special (though I also thought that about Tales from the Hood, and I was not at all right). I was somewhat worried it might pan out to be little more than a Mad TV sketch”Guess Who’s Coming For Dinner!but I still hoped that we’d get some shining moments like in that winkingly Kubrickian sketch.
But there was something else I needed from this movie. I’ve seen my share of brutal 3-hour slave narratives, and those films tend to send me to the Sunken Place: feeling mired in intractable issues, perpetually trapped on the bottom rung of society’s ladderwhen, of course, reality doesn’t feel like that. So I get a little spine tingle when the genre expectations get flipped. Sometimes we need less misery, more Misery.
Don’t get me wrong, being Black Right Now has its share of issues, and its nice to see it given a deeper dimension in a scary movie. The absurdism of horror tropes extends pretty easily to the absurdism that surrounds so much talk about race and racism: Its not a far walk from Why is he going into the woods? to Why do we really have to explain why black lives matter? We all know exactly how it’s going to go down, but it doesnt stop us from re-enacting it time and time again. And the movie acknowledges literal historical horror for sure, mirrored in the Armitage family members weapons of choice: from seduction, to brute force, to guinea-pig experimentation, to plain old bamboozlement.
As for the movies lasting impact, I think that remains to be seen. I thought Dave Chappelles commentary was helping tear down some of our oldest cultural walls in the early 00s, and look where we are now. We always assume ours is the generation thats fixing this stuff, only to sometimes find out otherwise. Thats why I couldnt help wondering how complicit Rose was. What did you think about the fact that ol’ girl was in on the scheme? Was she just a dutiful granddaughter helping her grandpa get over getting sonned by Jesse Owens back in the day? Or was she just pure milk-sipping evil?
PR: THAT MILK THOUGH. Of all the begging-for-audience-reaction moments that Peele stocked this film withthe deer business, the passing glances of Georgina acting creepy, the open doorthat milk might have been the sleeper hit of the movie, at least in the theater we watched it in (shout out to the Century 16 in San Leandro!). For a film that hinged on playing with expectations about the specter of Evil White Folks, the shot of Rose merrily sipping milk while she shopped for basketball players online was a hilarious dogwhistle. Speaking of Chappelle, that was a scene he must have loved.
But thats not what you asked me! Despite the early clue of both Rose and her father using the wouldve-voted-for-Obama-again linethe Armitage clan has a pretty polished routine by nowI was surprised by Roses involvement. Well, not surprised as much as disenchanted. And thats really the point, right? Of all the things Chris tries to look past or laugh off throughout the movie, from the dads slang-slinging to the partygoers awkwardness, he at least thinks that his girlfriend is proof that Things Are Getting Better. Shes the one who faced down the cop at the beginning of the movie, shes the one who called her dad out for his shenanigans; she was, as discourse-minded corners of the internet like to say, an ally. The question was, was her involvement personal, or just family business? Im not sure it matters, honestly. Either answer fits snugly into the movies central metaphor about Americas systemic dependence on (and theft of) black bodies.
Which brings us to that ending. While Chris was fighting his way out of the familys twisted chop-shop, whether by bocce ball or foot on the devils neck, you turned to me and said This isnt going to end well. And when we saw the flashing lights of the police car, just as Chris was about to bid a farewell to Armitages, I agreed with you. It felt like the whole theater did, honestly. The mood changed abruptly, because we all knew what would happen next: Rose appealing to the cops to trust their eyes and their instincts; the movie turning into the tragedy-mask version of the end of Key & Peeles Negrotown sketch. But somehow, miraculously, that wasnt to be. So, Kelli, why? Why not leave us miserable?
KR: Ever since Hopper and Fonda blew it at the end of Easy Rider, the pessimist take has been the mark of serious countercultural cinemaand honestly, if it were my first big solo project, I mightve given into the temptation to go cynical. Its just too easy to go full Chicken Little with every setback on this bumpy road to progress. But I have to think that Peele is an optimist (Roses milk glass was half full, right?), who doesnt think that the colorline is permanently insurmountable. His life is testament to that: Hes mixed himself, and hes married to Chelsea Peretti. The playing field might not be level, but there are of enough of us who have mastered the judo needed to escape the trap. Even you, whitey!
Besides, the film was stuffed with predator-vs.-prey imagery that ended up subverting expectation. The lion next to the bed ended up as nothing but a stuffed toy; meanwhile, the deer head on the wall became the films bloodiest weapon. Interracial fear can go in either directionfear of the other exists on both sides.
With all the talk about Get Out subverting the the black guy dies first trope, though, I think people are overlooking that this is way bigger than horror. In virtually all modern storytelling, black people rarely get to complete the heros journey: Theyre killed off, captured, or otherwise sacrificed before making their way home. We need more of these storiesand I dont mean black triumphing over white, I mean a fully rounded protagonist with the opportunity to come back home with a story of triumph that shames the haters and gives life to fans. Its about getting to see a cycle of personal growth pay off. Thats truly where the optimism lies.
Plus, I dont know how many of us couldve taken it if Chris had ended up in the hands of the copstheres enough in the world reminding us that privilege and brawn still have the upper hand. And speaking of, how did the Armitages manage to get away with their annual auction? What happened to the rest of their quarry? Was Rod right, and there are handfuls of zombie black sex slaves sprinkled up and down the northeast corridor? And how much of this is based on the Kardashians real life? Most importantly: What saved Chris from their fate? Was it because he didnt lose his head during the many parts of the movie when he could have?
PR: Sure, laugh now, but the race is on to see who titles their next mixtape The Sunken Place Vol. 1: Behold the Coagula! (My moneys on Lupe Fiasco.) I think youre dead on about Chris. As with any horror survivor, its partially luck and partially character. Being a photographer might have been the thing that made him so attractive to the blind art dealer, but it also made him a watcher. Even in the earliest scenes, he just sat back and observed. That telephoto lens on his camera wasnt just an obvious (and black) phallic symbol he was poking into the Armitages worldit was a penetrating gaze that helped him expose the nefarious goings-on.
His camera also proved lucky, though: Georgina and Walter might have been behaved suspiciously, but it wasnt until the flash-bulb mishap at the party that Chris really started to do the math about what was going on. In fact, speaking of poor Andrew Logan Hillthe dude who was kidnapped in the beginning of the movie, and then popped back up as arm candy at the partyhes presumably still stuck in the Sunken Place, stuck with someone elses name (message!) and watching life through a tiny screen, unaware that hes dressed like a rich white womans antebellum fantasy. And theres no reason to think that everyone else in Roses photo box isnt out there suffering a similar fate. Just because one lucky guy got out doesnt mean everyone doesand in Peeles super-smart directorial debut, that might be the scariest thing of all.