“You can ask a white person to see the world through the eyes of a black person for an hour and a half.” Those are the words of director Jordan Peele, a perfect summary of his impressive debut, Get Out. This is a film that dances between nervous laughter and fear, an elaborate metaphor for the modern nightmare of living in a black body.
There is an astute fixation with sight in this film. Protagonist Chris is a photographer, using his eyes to create art. What we see as viewers is shown through his own (often harrowing) point-of-view shots. Peele uses lines of sight to magnify the imbalances of power – who is allowed to look, and at what, becomes crucial. Eyes play a significant role, too, in revealing the way that black bodies are objectified. After all, race is often perceived by what is seen, and indeed, Chris visibly relaxes when he finds himself in the company of a blind man. This character claims to be indifferent to colour, not unlike the white liberal parents who manage to erase and deny the reality of the black experience.
Perhaps most unsettling is the presence of the uncannily delighted black servants in the family. These characters have been stripped of their collective history, and without it they are socially white, failing to recognise any of the black cultural codes when Chris interacts with them. Notably, the oddly-dressed Logan matches Chris’ fist-bump with a cordial handshake. All horror films require a villain, and here it can only be whiteness. This is a radical film in the sense that white people are ultimately held accountable for every subtle prejudice, every fetishisation and attempt to reprogram black people for white purposes.
A lot more could be said about the film’s deliberate subversion of classic horror tropes. Horror has traditionally meant an attack on otherness, though possibly this otherness has never been quite so eloquently expressed. The last few moments of the film even acknowledge viewer expectations while gently side-stepping them, providing a satisfying resolution to the tension. Get Out will make white viewers cringe and squirm, as it absolutely should. Finally, black men have been given a protagonist that evades stereotypes and attacks systematic oppression. His insurrection is a raw, poetic defiance.