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Horror Has Always Been Political: On Get Out

Everyone needs to see Get Out. It’s the type of lone political film that taps the world on the shoulder, reminding us through humor and scares that very real problems are all around us—and we must fix them. Such is the point of art and, yes, horror movies are an art form.

To that, a lot of conversation about Get Out is how the film is “political” horror and how crazy that is. “Get Out subverts the genre in fundamental ways,” Jordan Crucchiola wrote for Vulture when it was released. “Providing the best example of why horror will be our most powerful form of screen activism in this period of raw and rampant social unrest.”

While true—and what Crucchiola does touch on—is that Get Out isn’t anything new as it relates to horror and a claim like that is actually overblown: horror has always been about politics, a genre born from real life scares intended to scare you outside of books and theatres by making real world issues seem foreign. That is why the genre is so important: it can be high drama or political commentary and we are very, very quick to strip horror of it’s power. People love to say that horror is stupid or immature or simply about scares. Sure, Rings is that. But Get Out isn’t—and the film isn’t alone in it’s critiquing of culture.

Let’s start from the beginning. An example: vampires have long been viewed as metaphors for homosexuality, as a means to address alternate sexual desires and the fear we associate with it. Ben in Night Of The Living Dead dies in the end of the movie as a victim of circumstance but also of his blacknessBlacula—and blaxsploitation horror in general—addressed the discomforts and “horrors” of being black in America in very bold, often extreme ways. Rosemary’s Baby and Alien (and The Babadook and The Witch) are films about women’s rights, motherhood, and female empowerment among other things while 1975’s The Stepford Wives took this furtherest by aiming to reprogram an entire gender. The original Dawn Of The Dead is about American consumerism and wasteWhite Dog very clearly is about racismThe Faculty is about (queer) alienation. The Purge is about classism and American bloodlustIt Follows is about sexual politics and mortality. And on and on and on.

Horror is so wonderful because it shines a light on real life horrors by exaggeration, by hyperbole. We frequently forget this and devalue the genre as remakes, franchises, and general muck crowd the frame. When people think “horror,” they don’t think about the aforementioned films being sharp political commentary: they think about how dumb and stupid and teen oriented Paranormal Activity is.

With Get Out, we have a breakthrough moment to see horror’s value at a time when real horror is happening all around us. These films offer catharsis by attacking a part of culture and society via turning problems into a scary movie where a clear hero—The Final Girl.—always comes out victorious, above the issue. She may not solve the issue addressed in society but she is a symbol of hope.

Thankfully, the success of Get Out isn’t going to stop films like this from being made. It is going to evolve into a “trend,” for better or worse. You can foresee many, many Get Out knockoffs attempting to smartly address race but potentially failing to miss the mark. At the same time, many will succeed and make way for horror movies about being transgender or non-binary, about being of an alternative sexuality, about being Middle Eastern and Muslim (Technically that is already happening…), etc. Jason Blum, who produced Get Out and all the best contemporary horror movies at Blumhouse, knows what makes money and sees dollar signs in this new brand. He’ll get another few movies out of Peele and others hoping to make change via scary movies.

Thus, the gates to hell are open in horror, for us to gaze at our darkest sides, to remind people we have work to do. That is why everyone loves Get Out: it’s a brilliant movie, of a time and place, and in a genre that no one was expecting politics to come from. Yet, that’s the perfect place a movie as such should come from.

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