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How Get Out Kickstarted Jordan Peele’s Scary Great Horror Career
Even back in his Key & Peele days, we probably should have seen this coming.
Horror and comedy have at least one thing in common: creators who heighten their effects by viewing commonplace and mundane things through a slightly skewed lens. On the horror side of things, Wes Craven did it with 1996’s Scream by tweaking society’s tired assumptions about horror-movie dos and don’ts. More than two decades later, Jordan Peele came along and used people’s worst-held racial presumptions as his meta-canvas, accomplishing the same feat (and then some) with 2017’s Oscar-winning Get Out (streaming here on Peacock).
As half of the 2010s comedy duo Key & Peele (alongside Keegan-Michael Key), Peele was known as a comedian long before he ever emerged as a pop culture-defining horror specialist. At least by that measure, maybe the world should have seen Get Out, his home-run horror directing debut, coming well ahead of its unnerving 2017 arrival. At its simplest, it’s the ultimate psychological horror freak-out over racial envy, though there’s a lot more going on in the film — which won Peele an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay — to suggest that the comedian-turned-serious moviemaker was sitting on an entire career’s worth of big ideas beyond his sensational first flick.
'Bad miracle': How Get Out laid the groundwork for future Jordan Peele scares
Just about everyone, by now, has seen Get Out. It’s a psychological horror flick that plays to stereotypes almost to an absurd, laughable degree, finding fear (and even occasional humor) in carrying the most basic lowbrow generalities about race, mortality, and even workplace dynamics (just check out costar Lil Rel Howery’s hilarious dressing down, late in the film, at the hands of a trio of jaded police) to the most extreme of conclusions.
The movie’s setup is simple enough: A white woman (M3GAN standout Allison Williams) and her Black boyfriend Chris (Daniel Kaluuya, who earned a Best Actor Oscar nod for his Get Out performance) beat a retreat for a weekend getaway that’s meant to introduce them as a mixed-race couple to her affluent, rurally-ensconced extended family. That simple fish-out-of-water premise sets the psychological stage for every one of Chris’ worst-case racial presumptions to flash across his mind — innocently, at first, in that casual, easy-to-dismiss way that most civilized people can easily relate to.
In Get Out, though, the difference is this: Against every well-developed mechanism that people have built to buttress social niceties and cohesion about race, all of Chris’ oh-no-they-wouldn’t suspicions actually, unbelievably, end up coming true. Told almost entirely from Chris’ point of view, the movie covers a ton of seemingly safe ground on the way to its late-stage revelation of what’s really going on and who’s really pulling the strings. Peele masterfully lays breadcrumbs at every step to bait the audience’s expectations — all the better, of course, to intensify the thrill when he finally yanks the rug out from underneath it all by the film’s bloody-but-satisfying end.
Today, fans take for granted that Peele knows how to be both funny and scary with his horror films — the result of well-blended character and story threads that signify all three of the fright flicks — Get Out, Us, and Nope —that he’s directed so far. But from the very beginning, he’s always had an uncanny knack for expressing something deeper about psychological horror, something more personal, reflective, and numinous.
Peele’s gift for setting audiences’ nerves on edge has a way of emerging especially when things get eerily silent and still. In Get Out, it’s there in Chris’ brief moments of uneasy reverie — when he encounters a dead deer in the woods, or bashfully pivots a harmless stuffed animal (and its inscrutable gaze) away from his bedside nightstand. Peele would later describe it as the phenomenon of the “bad miracle,” a moment when one of his characters — like young Jupe in Nope, fixing his stare on a curiously balanced children’s shoe while hiding in the bloodied aftermath of a chimpanzee rampage — recognizes that people are the playthings of powers and meanings that they’re just not built to understand.
Like M. Night Shyamalan, there’s an infinite extent of room inside Peele’s creative headspace to explore endless movie iterations of the same basic recurring themes that preoccupy him. Get Out remains, perhaps, his most well-integrated blend of conventional and uniquely Peele-esque (a term that should exist, if it doesn’t) horror ideas to date — but what’s remarkable about the trio of fright films he’s directed so far is just how consistent each has been in juggling all of the inventive new pieces he keeps tossing into the mix.
If all that sounds like too fancy praise for a movie about a guy who gets trapped in a body-swapping nightmare, the great thing about Get Out (and each of Peele’s movies) is that it’s a straightforward horror blast with high-impact thrills that’ll scratch your scary itch — no analysis or overthinking required. And as the days get shorter, the air gets cooler, and the seasonal Halloween craving for terror sets in, isn’t that the only endorsement any scary movie really needs?