Essays · Movies

Movie of the Year (2017): Get Out

When we saw this movie at Sundance in January 2017, it felt special. Though we never could’ve predicted its success and influence over the course of the year.
Rewind Movie Get Out
By  · Published on December 21st, 2017

This article is part of our 2017 Rewind, a massive effort to collect, examine, and categorized the best of pop culture in 2017.

Jordan Peele’s Get Out delves into identity, race in America, and the terrifying mad science present in the Order of the Coagula. It’s about Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), a black man, who agrees to go and meet the parents of his white girlfriend, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams). The set up feels like a sort of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, but goes the way of The Stepford Wives real quick. Things are not right at that country estate. Why won’t Rose’s dad, Dean (Bradley Whitford), stop saying “My man!”? What’s the deal with the old white people showing up to a party scheduled during his visit? Who is the Order of the Coagula?

Get Out is tense, thrilling, and gorgeous. The scares are as effective on your second and third watch as they are on the first. If anything, the film becomes darker and more soul-chilling once the mystery is revealed. Beyond that, it offers a poignant yet simple message about racism in America. All from a first-time filmmaker. For these reasons, this is our Movie of the Year.

If you haven’t seen it, please stop and seek it out.

The Armitage family is a Southern-fried version of the Frankenstein family. However, rather than steal corpses, they abduct African-Americans. Through the power of the coagula butterfly, hypnosis, and good old-fashioned brain swapping, Dean gives rich white folk new bodies. More specifically, he gives them the bodies of their prisoners. The mad science in Get Out is practically campy. It features brain surgery to candlelight, with out-dated seemingly consecrated medical instruments from the 1800s mashed up with the practical utility of the modern power drill. However, their methods – to include the hypnotic assault on their victims’ minds – are terribly off-putting to watch.

Coagula is an interesting word choice. In the Latin, it means a coming together. So, the noggin’ swappin’ Order of the Coagula is literally the order of bringing things together. It fits but maybe elides some important points. However, there’s a listed definition for its use by doctors during the 1800s. Medically, it meant the hardening of infectious pus in the veins which would likely lead to death. Basically, in the 1800s, a Coagula was a byproduct of things which failed to help you heal that eventually solidified into pus balls of death in your veins and choked the life out of you. Radical word choice.

The best horror movies are about real horror. Well, let’s widen the aperture. Art should make you think. All movies are art, whether they’re about two clueless buffoons looking for a runaway kitten in a world of assassins, or they’re about the darkest periods of American history. They are always political. They’re either a product of their times or a commentary on them. Even the way we view a movie, or the things we take out of it, change with the political climate.

Peele has shared that he wrote the movie during the Obama administration with the idea of igniting a conversation about race. During the Obama era, racism in America simmered under a veneer of well-meaning self-congratulating white liberals and racists who had found an easy way to deflect concerns about racism. It was very difficult to tell them apart. Wait. Simmered is the wrong word. Inferno is more appropriate.

When Get Out arrived in February, the unexpected had happened. Instead of debuting during the Clinton administration, the nation was busy working through its utter surprise at the arrival of the Trump administration. It changed the tenor of the conversation. Racism was once again a national concern for white people.

I had the pleasure of watching the documentary I Am Not Your Negro as a double feature with Get Out. It was based on James Baldwin’s unfinished memoir Remember This House.

The story of the Negro in America is the story of America. And, it is not a pretty story. – James Baldwin

It pushed my take on Peele’s film into a more historical perspective. For as wonderful as it was to have elected an African-American man to the office of President, the reality is that one out of forty-five is not even close to three out of five.

We chew lives up in America. More often than not, those lives belong to people who are not white.

There are people smarter and wiser who have more thoroughly explored this aspect of the film. And I encourage you to check out as many of those writers as you can. If his goal was to prod a conversation, he succeeded.

So, he made a terrific vehicle for a social message! But, wait. I’m not just a fan of art films which explore the human condition. I love me some horror films. The magic of Get Out is that he has laced it with easy to process commentary and delivered on a film that is utterly thrilling on its own.

Peele is a master of our emotion. We laugh and cry and recoil at his command. His control of the sound is perfect. Think back to the hypnosis scene. He fades the sound of the stirring cup in and out as required. As Chris is asked to find the rain, we hear a slow, soft rain in the background. Our minds are invaded as we watch as Chris is forced into the Sunken Place. Not for nothing, that bit is amongst the best cinematography of the year. I have no idea how they made that shot look so perfect.

However, my favorite sound effect in the film follows the introduction of the Sunken Place. Chris is having a nightmare in his bed. He wakes and hears what seems to be a fly buzzing around. As he listens more closely, we instead hear the wailing of the deer they struck at the beginning of the film. Snap cut to that deer. Snap cut back to the bedroom. The wailing deer devolves back into a buzzing fly. Pure excellence.

Daniel Kaluuya makes this film breathe. Anything we feel is because he holds nothing back for the camera. He leaves everything on that screen. And just the moment after that becomes emotionally overwhelming, we get LilRel Howery as Chris’ friend Rod in a gloriously hilarious straight man performance.

The audience is Rod. When Chris calls him and tells him what’s up, Rod gets straight to the point.

Sex slave! Oh, shit! Chris, you gotta get the fuck outta there, man! You in some Eyes Wide Shut situation. – Rod TS Motherfuckin’ A Williams

These are real people on the screen. It is powerful in Chris and Rod. It’s also true for the Armitage clan. While the mad science may be a lark, we know those people. We know them. That authenticity is what makes the final moments of the film so powerful. In any other horror film, those flashing lights bring relief. In a film full of authentic characters and a present full of civil unrest and protests over police violence, well. I know what I thought.

This combination of social commentary and pure cinematic excellence elevates the film to not only the best of the year but one that will be talked about as regularly in five or six decades as something like Night of the Living Dead is today.

Not everything that is faced can be changed. But, nothing can be changed until it has been faced. History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history. – James Baldwin

Movies should be empathy machines. Roger Ebert got to the core of what art, specifically film, should do for us. Get Out was so elegantly structured and presented that I felt, for just a moment, that I could see what that experience might be like. For a moment, I saw. Now, I’d love to listen.

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Writer for Film School Rejects. He currently lives in Virginia, where he is very proud of his three kids, wife, and projector. Co-Dork on the In The Mouth of Dorkness podcast.