Get Out (2017): Racial Horror

Warning: This entry contains spoilers.

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), who is in a steady relationship with Rose (Allison Williams), has been invited for a weekend getaway trip to visit his girlfriend’s parents for the first time. At first, he is hesitant because he thinks that Rose’s parents may judge their interracial relationship, but he is calmed down and reassured otherwise by his girlfriend. The moment he reaches their estate, he observes that the only signs of people of color are the staff members; and beginning from here, he cannot shake the feeling that, in this predominantly white neighborhood, something isn’t right.

Directed by Jordan Peele, Get Out is a 2017 mystery horror film that tackles a topic that is extremely relevant in our modern day and age – racial discrimination. While the film did not necessarily have supernatural entities, it was still horrifying because of the atrocities done to the main character, who was a person of color.

This film was equally eerie and entertaining. It was eerie in a sense of the mindset that the white people had. Black men and women were being hypnotized, targeted, and were being subjected to surgical procedures without consent. These procedures would push for their states of mind to move into “the sunken place” forever, and their bodies would then be infiltrated and utilized by older and frail white people. The film was also entertaining because of the main character. Chris had a self-awareness within him, wherein he quickly realized that there was an underlying problem in the neighborhood, and that he was in danger early on, which led him to doing all that he could to free himself from the situation.

The film can be related with Wood’s article on “the Other.” From the very moment the movie starts, we are introduced to a nameless black character. He feels unsafe in his surroundings and tries to leave, but is eventually abducted. This man, who we know nothing about aside from his race, is considered to be an “Other” right from the get-go and it sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

When Chris visits Rose’s family’s estate, he was treated immediately as an outcast within the family. They were all white, and the only signs of other black people within the nearby premises were the household staff – the groundskeeper and the maid. Chris was considered an Other in this situation. Here, the Otherness can be dealt with “in one of two ways: either by rejecting and if possible annihilating it, or by rendering it safe and assimilating it, converting it as far as possible into a replica of itself.”1 In this case, what was done to all the people of color was the latter. As we find out later on in the movie, numerous black people were abducted, held against their will, and were then converted into something else – a white person living inside the shell of a black person. These black people were assimilated within the white community, but only after they were turned into something completely other than their initial Otherness.

Chris was an outcast in this situation. He never felt comfortable. Yet, because of his self-awareness, and perhaps also due to the sense of parody that the film carries with it, Chris definitely knew that something was out of the ordinary. He contacted a trusted friend of his back home, and relied his suspicions and worries. And as it turns out, he did have a right to feel this way. It came to light that, throughout his stay in the estate, Chris was being profiled by all the white people – they were looking at him like an object, depersonalizing him, sizing up his physical capabilities, and trying to see what he could possibly offer them. Usually, in horror films, the Otherness is something that pushes people away. However, in this case, it was Chris’ Otherness that allured people. His race set him apart and made the family and the party guests interested in him. Everyone’s eyes were always on him. Here, Chris was an Other who initially tried connecting and assimilating with the white community, but once he realized his efforts were for moot and that he was actually attracting the wrong kind of attention, he stopped trying, embraced his Otherness, and then focused on trying to save himself.

The movie also relied heavily on the concept of repression. As defined by Wood, basic repression is something that is universal seeing as it is what “makes us distinctively human, capable of directing our own lives and co-existing with others.”2 As seen from his actions early on in the film, Chris was used to being profiled and discriminated. He was wary of meeting his white girlfriend’s family, he was ready to hand over his license to a police officer who asked for it even though he had done no wrong, and he readily entertained the obtrusive questions asked to him by the party guests. It can be implied that he had lived his whole life used to this sort of treatment, yet he never lashed out. He simply accepted how he was being treated because, perhaps, he had repressed his inner instinctual feelings of anger and hatred deep within him. However, towards the end of the film, there is a reversal in the roles. Chris, who has been the target and the victim throughout the film, suddenly becomes the vindictive murderer. His feelings of repression couldn’t be contained anymore after what he had gone through, and he begins hunting down his oppressors. The scenes that follow where Chris is able to finally exact revenge is something that is very satisfying to watch that allows for audiences to embracingly share in the redemption and triumph that Chris experiences.

According to Tudor, people enjoy “the fascination of not knowing what is going to happen next, and the ambivalently pleasurable tension which attends that uncertainty”3 whilst watching horror films. Horror makes people feel, and it is because of this that explains why people continue to indulge in horror – due to the very fact that is scares them. Movies that may have been considered the epitome of horror in the past, may not even cause present audiences to flinch due to changing structures, systems, and social and cultural significances.4 The same can be said in reverse for Get Out. While it is true that the creepy stoic expressions seen in the film may have also scared audiences in the past, for audiences in the present, the movie is made scarier because, aside from the jump scares, the movie also carries with it a piercing message about our own society and culture.

Get Out presents the sensitive topic of racial discrimination. It allows for us to reflect on the world that we live in and the problems that lie within it. After watching the movie, we may question the events that were shown and think about how absurd and unrealistic they were. For after all, how could people treat others in such a horrific and inhumane way? However, although some may deny it, the film does reflect our society because the fact of the matter is that discrimination is still very much existent in our world today. And although, this discrimination may not result in something as intense as the events shown in the film, we cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that there are numerous news reports in our present reality concerning racial biases, police brutality, and hate crimes done towards people of color; and therein lies the real-life horror.

1 Robin Wood. “The American Nightmare: Horror in the 70s.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002), 27.
2 Ibid, 25.
3 Andrew Tudor, “Why Horror? The Peculiar Pleasures of a Popular Genre.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002), 49.
4 Ibid, 54.


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