If it were up to Jordan Peele, everyone would pay to see “Get Out” in the theater.
He’s the writer-director of the horror movie, so of course he’s going to say that. But the thing is, he’s right. “Get Out” is terrifying, funny and bracing to the extreme; it ratchets up the energy in a theater, making moviegoers scream and cheer, creating a collective experience that’s charged in a way you’d never recreate at home alone in your living room.
So far, people are listening to Peele’s advice.
“Get Out” has become a sleeper hit. Made for less than $5 million, it’s raked in more than $75 million after 10 days in theaters. Horror movies tend to do well at the box office, but “Get Out” is distinctive. With its sharp commentary on racism, the movie has an appeal beyond horror fans, and the fact that Jordan Peele, of Key and Peele fame, wrote and directed has also piqued the interest of comedy lovers.
The movie follows Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a man preparing to meet his girlfriend’s parents for the first time at their sprawling suburban estate. “Do they know I’m black?” he asks Rose (Allison Williams), who’s white, but she brushes him off. It’s no big deal, she assures him. Her father (Bradley Whitford) would have voted for Barack Obama for a third term if he could, she explains.
But as soon as Chris arrives at the home of a couple — mom is played by Catherine Keener — who pride themselves on being open-minded liberals, he has reasons to worry. For starters, there’s the maid and the groundskeeper, who are both black, and who seem to be in some kind of trance. Then there’s Rose’s little brother (Caleb Landry Jones) whose idea of getting to know Chris looks like Bad Cop interrogation tactics. By the time Chris starts meeting friends of the family, microaggressions have given way to overt racism.
So much of the comedy is laced with horror and vice versa that watching it with a lot of people becomes a giddy, frightening shared experience. During a particularly shocking moment during a recent screening — when the housekeeper appears out of nowhere to walk quickly in and out of the frame — it felt like just about everyone in the audience gasped and then, shocked at their own outburst, immediately dissolved into a fit of giggles. The reaction was the same when Chris is outside after dark sneaking a cigarette and is startled to see the groundskeeper sprinting toward him before the man veers off and runs past him. “Get Out” unifies viewers experiencing its manic effects.
Our collective reactions can also be revealing. (A couple spoilers ahead.) When Chris finds himself in a particularly dangerous situation, the appearance of a police car doesn’t calm the audience so much as worry viewers more. Chris is an unarmed black man with his hands up, so the flashing lights had audience members murmuring, “Oh no,” before they made the cathartic realization that this wasn’t your average policeman, which in turn prompted an eruption of applause.
These days there are only so many reasons people will be lured to a theater rather than experiencing movies at home. One is visual effects, which look so much better on an Imax big screen. Another is spoilers. A longtime Marvel fan isn’t going to miss “Logan” on opening weekend, lest they end up left out of the conversation or, worse, someone ruins it for them. The fact that Netflix is scooping up the rights to more and more movies for streaming release is yet another indication of where we’re headed: watching movies at home.
But “Get Out” reminds us of the special benefits of the movie theater experience. So often, the people sitting around us in the dark get chatty or annoyingly distracting. But sometimes it pays to surround yourself with people. Sometimes the strangers help make the movie.