The same night Moonlight won Best Picture, Get Out ended its fruitful theatrical debut with $33.4 million in North American grosses, surpassing forecasts that estimateda $28 million opening. Jordan Peeles horror film is expected to net another $26 millionthis go-round,remarkable for a genre known for steep second-weekend revenue declines.
One week alone cannot presage a seismic shift, but the coupled victories for Moonlight and Get Out send a clear message about the types of stories worth telling on the big screen. Moonlight is a delicate coming-of-age masterpiece with an exclusively black cast, and Get Out is a scalding satire that indicts Americas racial bigotry as thoroughly as any slavery movie.
The two share another commonality:rapturous reception.Moonlight drew near-universal acclaim and placed high on many critics year-end lists. It was, in many ways, the defining art film of 2016, doing first-rate business for a project that cost a mere $1.5 million to make. Similarly, Get Out promos boasted of the movies100 percent Rotten Tomatoes score, at least until critic Armond White published his characteristically contrarian review in the National Review.
Because Moonlight is an austere drama, it found an obvious portal into the Oscar race, eventually securing eight nominations. Get Out, on the other hand, hails from a genre regularly ignored by awards groups.Movies released in the first half of the year arent often remembered by the time Oscar campaigns rev up around September anyway. But those constructs should change because Get Out is every bit as worthy an Oscar candidate as much of the prestige fare that floods theaters every winter.
Making his directorial debut, Peele positions Get Outwithin a through-line of classics chronicling social terrors. He has cited Rosemarys Baby and The Stepford Wives nightmares about female subjugation and spousal manipulation as key influences. Except instead of demonic neighbors or patriarchal fascism, the fear in Get Out is something far more common: white people.
Peele has crafted a postmodern indictment of racial bondage that requires astute viewership. Some will call this a horror comedy, but thats a simplistic label: The humor is often a tongue-in-cheek result of the terror, which derives from white faces preying on black bodies. It is history, modernized and largely depoliticized, aside from the central milky clan insisting they would have voted for Barack Obama for a third term.
As Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a black photographer, meets his white girlfriend Roses (Allison Williams) family for the first time at their suburban WASP manor, his anxieties are reflected in common horror tropes. Chris oozes paranoia, leaving us at first wondering, as we did with Rosemary, whether his misgivings are unfounded.
We are all familiar with, or can at least imagine, the stresses of meeting a partners relatives. (In-laws are terrifying, after all.) Abetted by the tension of a psychological thriller, that familiarity invokes skeptical amusement.We chuckle nervously as Roses family dotes over Chris like a trophy while their black house-servants mill about like zombies. We titter as his fears are seemingly confirmed and dismissed at once. Jump-scares those cheap Boo! tricks that have come to define the horror genre end in us laughing at ourselves for giving in to the scene the way it wants us to. We dont yet know Rose and her parents (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) have brewed a sinister plot that lobotomizes and enslaves black people,but we can detect an intangible racism beneath the surface, and that careful escalation leaves the viewer feeling susceptible.(It must be said, however, that the film does pepper in earnest comedy, mostly thanks to Chris loyal best friend, played by a boisterous Lil Rel Howery.)
Get Out is a piece of craftsmanship, seemingly made by a veteran director. It takes a skilled filmmaker with a deep connection to the nature of storytelling to create something that twists our familiarity with movies into something original. That it follows familiar patterns is precisely the point. In Peeles heightened narrative, well-meaning white people those clueless social liberals who would gladly dedicate their avocado toast to Black Lives Matter are villains without masks. These boogeymen and -women are all around us. You might even be one of them. And that idea, however brashly it is outlined, fosters a sociological commentary as complex as any prestigious Oscar title.
Whether Get Out will remain one of the years best, thereby sealing its Oscar worthiness, is yet to be seen. The last Best Picture champ released in January or February was 1991s The Silence of the Lambs, the only horror movie thats ever won. But Universal would be wise to start pondering an awards campaign, particularly for Kaluuyas effective performance and Peeles direction and script. Even if the Academy hasnt delivered on its promise, the Best Picture category expanded to a potential 10 slots so the Oscars could recognize popular movies regularly edged out by more somber conventions. Get Out is every bit as nuanced and layered as many intimate indie dramas, and at a time when our country can seem more racially polarized than ever, its just the sort of topical confrontation that Americans should be encouraged to embrace.
Get Out is now in theaters.