Rumors about films in production entertain me. I’m not talking about the official Empire magazine previews, complete with photos perfected by marketing experts and approved by studio execs. I’m talking about the stuff that floats around before that: the pinch-sized summaries you hear on set. The sort that grips and PAs tell you at crafty, that magical place filled with coffee and tea and fruit and enough ammo to load up a PB&J between setups. The kind of rumor you received via text from a location manager looking for a rundown house, or an actor who’s just auditioned for a role. Before marketing pros get their hands on the finished film, unofficial sluglines convey what people think the movie will be. And often, the people telling you what they think haven’t actually read the script. They’re telling you what they’ve heard.
No one I spoke with knew what Get Out would be.
Last year, I heard Jordan Peele was in New Orleans filming a movie. I heard it was a comedy. Peele’s bread and butter has long been laughs, so it made sense that he would stay in his wheelhouse for his directorial debut. I heard it was “comedy/horror” and “a comedy with horror in it.” And of course, “something new.” Most didn’t seem to know what to make of it. Many people who work on a film never read the script.
Even those who read Get Out probably didn’t know what it would be.
In their final form, films often end up being very different from what was originally on the page. Things, major and minor, often change. Things often must change: for reasons creative, budgetary and beyond. Making a film is terrifically difficult even under the best circumstances. And when a great film is made by agile men and women, applying their craft under great duress, sometimes they don’t find out about how great it is until you do. They go out on a Friday night like everyone else.
So what is Get Out?
It’s a freaking horror film! It’s a tense, deceptively small tale that pries open the mind with smart scares. It’s brilliant. Many media outlets have focused on the film’s humor and the social commentary inherent in its premise, but in its essence, Get Out is a horror film through and through. And that is at the core of why audiences and critics have found it so satisfying.
Horror sells. And it always has. From the penny dreadfuls to Stephen King, from The Exorcist to Paranormal Activity, macabre makes money. There’s just something about scares that’s universal. The best scares tap into universal fears, even when seen through the portal of a person’s truly unique experience. And while no genre guarantees financial success, horror does offer an indemnity that other sections of the bookstore and Blockbuster (R.I.P) don’t. Like flood insurance, the horror genre offers financial safety in the event of disaster. And that umbrella gives the craftsman room to smuggle in other stuff: philosophy, religion, politics, lies, truth. The Great Ideas are as at home within horror as microcosmic personal experiences.
With Get Out, Jordan Peele and his team have made brilliant use of the horror genre in just this way. By knitting social commentary into the very fabric of a horror premise, they have made Get Out an outstanding success: a fun, smart, scary movie that’s profitable. That last part’s important: because it’s profitable, Jordan Peele will get to make another movie. And because Get Out is a $5 million dollar movie that has made over $155 million dollars to date, his next movie can be pretty much anything he wants it to be.
And why was it successful? Because it’s a good horror film. Sure, there are laughs. Sure, there’s enough material about society’s real-life subtext to fill twenty NPR interviews. But those are not central to its success.
Get Out is a box office success because of three reasons:
- It could be marketed as a horror film.
- It IS a horror film! Those fantastic trailers weren’t selling a false bill of goods. Audience members got what they paid for, plus a little extra.
- It’s actually a good movie. While the horror genre provides some insurance, you still have to make a good movie. I think we’re firmly in an era where Rotten Tomatoes matters, and no movie is truly review-proof. So, do the work in development. It’s worth it.
And why was it a good movie? Primarily because of two reasons:
- A passionate and talented filmmaker with a unique voice, Jordan Peele, made it.
- That filmmaker’s voice was supported by producers and hundreds of craftspeople from development through distribution.
I think there are some important takeaways here for creators. Art house cinema and elitist literature are not the only containers capable of holding thoughtful content. Even greats like Dickens worked within the popular medium of their time, shaping stories to the form that would reach the widest audience. If working within a genre - one I’ve always loved anyway - helps to reach a wider audience, that’s great.
Every artist has to eat. If all I need to do is drench my musings about time and eternity in blood and guts, so be it.