The Tense Terror of the Oscar-Winning ‘Get Out’ Screenplay

This video investigates how Jordan Peele’s Oscar-winning screenplay puts a uniquely unnerving spin on classic horror tropes.
Get Out Woods
By  · Published on March 6th, 2018

Jordan Peele made history on Sunday night when Get Out’s Oscar win for Best Original Screenplay made him the category’s first African-American winner (and fourth African-American nominee ever, after Suzanne de Passe for Lady Sings the Blues in 1972, Spike Lee for Do the Right Thing in 1989, and John Singleton for Boyz N the Hood in 1991).

Get Out’s success feels additionally resonant as the first original horror story to win the award, given the Academy’s customary disdain for the genre — while earlier horror films like 1973’s The Exorcist and 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs also garnered wins for their scripts, they were both adapted from earlier sources. Moreover, the narrative’s razor-sharp satire of American race relations arguably makes it one of the most radical Best Original Screenplay winners yet. Get Out dares to argue that the seemingly casual experiences of bias and dehumanization that come with being black in America are rooted in something inherently sinister — even when enacted by the kind of courteous and well-meaning white liberals that have more in common with the Academy’s voting members than they do otherworldly demons or skin-flaying serial killers.

A new video by Michael Tucker of Lessons from the Screenplay examines how Get Out mines these new scares from the subversion of well-worn horror tropes. While the film’s central premise riffs on the universally stress-inducing scenario of meeting a significant other’s parents for the first time, taking notes from the setup of 1967’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, it renders this situation specifically horrifying through the perspective of its protagonist Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a twentysomething black photographer visiting his white girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) family estate.

Tucker’s analysis shows how Get Out’s characters move beyond stock archetypes like that of the hero’s supportive girlfriend or mentor in order to become truly shocking; the seeming “wokeness” of characters like the performatively indignant Rose and blind art dealer Jim Hudson (Stephen Root) lull the audience into believing that Chris might have allies, only to make the revelation of their complicity a genuine gut punch during the film’s climax. A tense interaction with a cop at the film’s start also urges the audience to treat the presence of law enforcement as yet another threat, turning the flashing police lights and sirens that show up in Get Out’s closing moments into yet another source of suspense — rather than the respite and salvation they signify at the end of slashers led by young white women like 1980’s Friday the 13th or 1996’s Scream.

Above all, Chris’s isolated social position as a young black man in an affluent, predominantly white suburb is crucial to the film’s creation of terror. In Get Out, the danger and violence don’t come from an outsider wreaking havoc on the status quo of a picture-perfect neighborhood, but rather from the neighborhood itself and the seemingly respectable families that will do anything in order to preserve their comfortable lifestyle.

Watch the video below to dive deeper into Peele’s extraordinary screenplay.

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Aline is a writer and student. She is very passionate about campy period dramas, female-driven horror films, and obscure Star Wars lore.