Get Out was initially written to be a Rosemary’s Baby type dark psychological horror, yet some people seem to call it a comedy. How can a film that fits both bills possibly be so successful? Or how does it even work at all?
The film shows the descent of a young black male into the underworld of what appears to be a happy, liberal white family.
It’s like Eyes Wide Shut meets Meet The Parents.
Did those references just confuse you?
A Dangerous Blend
This type of extreme genre mix is typically a recipe for disaster. But Get Out raked in nearly a quarter billion dollars in its first quarter at the BO.
It even made it into the all-time Top 20 for R-rated films.
So what made the movie so incredibly successful?
You can read it as a piece of racial propaganda, or even as a statement that whites are inferior:
JEREMY Cause, with your frame, your genetic make-up? If you pushed your body, I mean really trained, you’d be a beast.
Of course, in the quote above the speaker lacks authority, and his statement is part of the prejudice.
Because of the various points of view, and the topical nature of the theme, this movie provides an incredibly fertile base for heated debate. And that’s probably one of the elements that have fueled word of mouth.
But that’s not what I wanted to talk about.
At The End Of The Day…
What I found even more interesting as a filmmaker, is the story behind Get Out’s ending.
The production had wrapped, and the film followed the original screenplay. Then test screenings showed that audiences loved the movie, yet hated the ending.
It was not a matter of making a few edits. The studio requested an entirely new ending.
Trust me, this is not typically something a filmmaker is dying to do. After all, the original ending had remained consistent with everything preceding it, and the events play out closely to what you would expect would realistically happen in the real world.
The original ending was honest and true.
The new ending is the fairy tale.
It reflects what the audiences hope would happen in a better world, or perhaps in the future.
A Diamond Patch
To put it bluntly, Jordan Peele was asked to patch an ending to his movie that – on the surface – went straight against the very narrative he had built.
He may have had no choice, because the test screenings showed that the film could have easily flopped. Steven Spielberg is rumoured to claim that the most important part of a movie is its ending as it determines how people feel when they leave the theatre – and what they’ll say about it to others.
As a first-time filmmaker, it is not inconceivable that Peele’s contract with the studio stipulated that he had to make reasonable efforts to change the script, in case audience tests indicated the need.
To my taste, this is an example of the studio – or perhaps the tests – getting it right.
Three of my all-time favourite movies – Touch Of Evil, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and Blade Runner – have had re-releases that were closer to the director’s (initial) intentions.
None of these I enjoyed better than the original studio versions.
Studios step in all the time. These stories don’t always make it into the mainstream, though. In Hollywood, only a handful of directors enjoys final cut privilege.
Of course, the studios don’t always get it right. When they do, it is important to acknowledge this, and to study the differences between the original and the release versions.
Importantly, in the case of Get Out, the release ending may not be what was intended, ultimately it is still Jordan Peele’s.
5 Reasons Why Get Out Is A Classic
I love Get Out for many reasons. In some ways, I found it structurally similar to another fairly recent horror favourite: The Invitation. With that film, the parallels go all the way down to the animal-hit-on-the-road scene, which functions as a harbinger warning.
To name a movie an instant classic however, I need more than one point of excellence. In addition to a rock-solid single POV, I would point to the following:
- It Transcends Horror – There is a term in the industry for films that offer something beyond pure genre, and therefore appeal to an audience larger than just the fans: elevated genre. Although it is a murky concept, this film certainly falls under that banner. I have heard of viewers who took their parents to see the movie. Unless your parents are horror buffs, I reckon this phenomenon doesn’t happen too often.
- Incredible Mastery Of Tone – The hardest thing with genre blends, is to keep the tone in check. Scenes that play in one genre don’t always gel with the other. Even when you believe the script is fairly consistent in tone, the real challenges occur on set, and ultimately in the edit. How can a horror movie be scary if you have ample comic relief? And how can a truly dark movie be uplifting? I have a theory that comedy is not a genre but a tonal scale, applied to any genre. Remember Life Is Beautiful? And despite its upbeat ending, the discerning viewer will still leave Get Out with mixed emotions.
- A Kickass Mid Point – I often say that once you have found your mid point, you have your story. Here, the MP has two important beats: First Andre yells “Get out!”, and minutes later Chris discovers the evidence of what is going on at the Armitage’s. After a first half that was more about building tension and figuring things out, the second half has tremendous momentum, sheer unbearable suspense, and razor-sharp focus.
- Real Characters And Amazing Performances – No room for stock-horror cliché characters. Chris’ experience evokes that of millions of Americans, and the behaviour of the whites in Get Out reflects the omnipresence and the complexity of the issue. In terms of performance, nobody who has seen the film will ever forget the chilling performance by Betty Gabriel, when her character Grandma/Georgina goes up to Chris and apologises:
GEORGINA I owe you an apology. I shouldn’t be touching things that don’t belong to me.
- The End – See above. I cannot overstate how difficult it is to get a movie’s ending right. (For Little Miss Sunshine, I believe Michael Arndt wrote ten different versions, and they shot four.)
If you are a screenwriter, read the Get Out script and compare with the final film. If you’re a filmmaker, study the movie, its theme and its tone.
If you’re neither, just watch and enjoy.
Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in acquisition, development and production. He has trained students worldwide, and worked with half a dozen Academy Award nominees. Karel speaks more European languages than you have fingers on your left hand, which he is still trying to find a use for in his hometown of Sydney, Australia. The languages, not the fingers.