by: Jonathan Marcantoni
The case for Jordan Peele’s Get Out to win Best Picture at the 2018 Academy Awards…
When I was a child, The Silence of the Lambs won Best Picture at the 1992 Academy Awards, in what was seen at the time as an unprecedented move. While some moviegoers may remember The Silence of the Lambs as primarily a crime film, it was originally marketed and categorized as a horror movie, and in this regard it was the first such picture from this genre to win such a coveted award. The Silence of the Lambs was also was responsible for making a major social statement, one that has been watered down or forgotten over the ensuing decades due to the film largely being remembered for Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of Hannibal Lecter instead of its actual protagonist, Clarice Starling, played brilliantly by Jodie Foster. The Silence of the Lambs was intended to be a feminist horror story, where a female detective risks her career and sanity to stop a misogynist serial killer. Like many films that came before, its plot centered on saving a woman in distress, but with the added twist in Silence of the Lambs of the knight in armor being a woman as well. The cultural significance of this film’s narrative is what lifted it beyond its genre trappings and made it an instant classic.
Seventeen years later, another horror film, that contains within it profound social commentary, has the opportunity to once again take home an Academy Award for Best Picture. Countless essays and thought-pieces have been written about director Jordan Peele’s Get Out, all laying out sound points regarding the way the film deconstructs and satirizes racism in America. The film has rightly been called a perfect microcosm of Trump’s America, a film for the Black Lives Matter movement, and a film that calls out white liberals for their complicity and participation in the fetishization of black lives, bodies, and culture. Beyond that, there is another reason this film deserves recognition: it is an ingeniously structured, tightly woven, and expertly executed horror film. Much like science fiction fans speak of there being “adult” sci fi, which is to say, science fiction that traffics in the realm of ideas and the possibilities of science rather than the spectacle of special effects and creatures, so is there such a thing as “adult” horror. What mostly passes as horror in this day and age, from an objective standpoint, are empty films with idiotic plots, which as the late Roger Ebert used to call movies where everything would be resolved in a matter of minutes, if only the characters weren’t idiots.
A long standing joke regarding horror movies, one highlighted in a brilliant Eddie Murphy routine in which a black family goes into a hotel, and when they are told that it might be haunted, they leave immediately, is that horror films rely on unintelligent, superficial characters who don’t resemble actual human beings. First time director Jordan Peele actually addressed this issue in an interview with Terry Gross, where he stated that he took a page from Rosemary’s Baby, where the protagonists recognize something being off about a situation, but not so much that an intelligent person wouldn’t just walk away until it was too late. That creative decision forced Peele to inject his story with intelligent, and social commentary, which since the time of the 1920’s The cabinet of Dr. Calligra and the 1931 film M, and later with 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, has been a staple of “adult” horror.
Yet intelligence can only propel a story so far, so what makes Get Out brilliant lies in how much Peele doubles down on the ideas within his screenplay, injecting every line, every actor’s gesture, and every imaginatively choreographed shot, with resonance. Recognizing that even straight genre pictures can contain within them multiple genres, he mixes comedic one liners with awkward exchanges to undercut the sinister plot brewing below the surface, and allows for the romance between the two leads to be fully formed and authentic instead of a mere plot device. Peele smartly allows, much like The Silence of the Lambs did, for the horror of his film to be a natural byproduct of the story, rather than making the story a byproduct of its genre. Peele pulled this feat off through expert writing, cinematography, performances, and editing, utilizing to its fullest every tool at a filmmaker’s disposal, and that completeness of vision is what makes Get Out 2017’s Best Picture.