Jordan Peele's debut horror film Get Out is officially a box office winner, and fans are buzzing and chatting about its subversive and satirical look at the insidious subtleties of modern racism (well, they were until that Moonlight Oscar snafu became the headline...).
One of the biggest things about Get Out that we keep hearing is that some viewers are confused about one particular area of the film: the comedy. Like so many other great horror films (Evil Dead), Get Out mixes in plenty of humor to help balance is macabre and frightening story - but it seems that the comedy is lost on some viewers, and that may not be an accident.
We're going to be talking about the film in FULL SPOILER TERRITORY on the following pages, so if you haven't seen Get Out, don't read any further! But if you have seen the film and want to discuss its comedic aspects, read on.
The thing about Get Out is that it is, in many ways, one of the few truly "black" movies in the horror genre. That's not to say there haven't been other black horror films - but few (if any) have actually taking the experience of being African-American and turned it into a metaphor that fits the frame of the horror genre.
With that understanding, then, there is an abundant level of cultural comedy laced within the film's storyline and subtext. The easiest comparison viewers will understand is that Get Out is much like a sketch on Chappelle's Show or Key & Peele - shows which thrived on taking (sometimes uncomfortable) subjects of race and turning them into comedic fodder. Key & Peele had the added layer of taking such "racial humor" and making molding it into the frame of genre movies. Take a look at this zombie apocalypse sketch they once did on the show, and you'll begin to see where the groundwork for a film like Get Out was laid.
A lot of the deeper comedic moments in Get Out tend to be "insider jokes." There are a lot of black-on-black comedic moments that African-Americans will recognize - as well as humor derived from the experience of being the only African-American in an otherwise white cultural setting. Because these moments are mined from cross-cultural experiences and/or anxieties that African-Americans have, it's not surprising that some of the jokes end up going over the heads of those who have not had that experience, or paid all that much attention to those that do.
If you're looking for examples of some "insider jokes" in the film, look no further than our protagonist Chris' (Daniel Kaluuya) interactions with the three other black people he encounters in his girlfriend's upscale neighborhood. By the end of the film, we learn that Georgina (Betty Gabriel), Walter (Marcus Henderson), and Andrew Logan King (Lakeith Stanfield) are actually white people masquerading in the bodies of black people, which helps contextualize those awkwardly funny moments when Chris tries (and fails) to "talk black" with them. However, if you don't understand the cultural reality that African-Americans have two "voices" (one to communicate with white people; another dialect used with each other), then those moments of humorous insight will fall flat. As will moments like Chris' awkward conversations with his girlfriend's "progressive" father, who actually comes off as painfully oblivious and slightly offensive with his dialogue, even though he thinks he's being nice.
Get Out is a rare film that asks its audience to come up to its level of insight and commentary, rather than cradling the them, or avoiding the deeper subtext of race and race relations. So if you don't "get" parts, does that mean you're being left out? Not at all!
When faced with conventions or themes in a film that are clearly speaking to an audience (one that is not necessarily you), the proper thing is not to run away or simply avoid, but to engage, analyze, discuss and learn more.
If nothing else, Get Out is a horror movie that's done the small miracle of creating real discourse amongst viewers. It works because it's entertaining enough on a surface level, but there are clear signs all over that the subtext runs much deeper. Now that the discussion is going, expanded awareness about race and race relations gets a little bit more possible (which hopefully this article helps with) - because of a horror movie, of all things. But hey, whatever works...