Melodrama and Horror
Although Get Out is labeled as Horror film, writer/director Jordan Peele manages to do much more than fulfill a specific genre type. While Peele does satisfy the commonalities that are associated with the Horror genre, he does so by incorporating his own flavor and style in the mix. Comedy is used by Peele to alleviate moments of high tension; Action is used to amplify the tension on screen, and Melodrama serves to underline Peele’s biggest issue at hand: Racism. Whether it be addressing the blatant racism Chris experience by the police officer in the first act, the subtle racism by the Armitage’s and their friends, or any form of racism in between, Peele allows his commentary on the subject to transcend the film beyond just a genre film.
Elements of Melodrama in Get Out
At its core, Horror incorporates the most basic elements of melodrama as a narrative device and, for the most part, mainly establishes a clear good and a clear evil. Any characters who are significant to the narrative, are established within the good/evil spectrum and fulfill an explicit hero or villain archetype. However Peele uses the this, along with other fundamentals of melodrama to dismantle common stereotypes associated with black individuals in film. By portraying Chris, a black character, as a tragic hero of the film, Peele contradicts various stereotypes suggesting black individuals are either violent or incapable of being leaders/heroes. While Chris is not free of flaws, his characterization does not make him out to be a violent secondary character but rather a peaceful young man who overcomes his tragic past and is thrust into a situation where he must fight for his life to survive and remain himself.
One of the most prevalent forms of melodrama that Peele uses throughout the film is Sirkian melodrama. Unlike conventional melodrama, Sirkian melodrama focuses on family and social dynamics within the narrative. This makes Sirkian melodrama an excellent vessel for expressing social commentary on real life events that mirror the film’s narrative.
Peele’s use of Sirkian melodrama throughout the first half of the film and sporadically throughout the second half, drives the racial tension viewers experience between Chris and several white characters. Rather than explain the cause of subtle racism or liberal racism, Peel seeks to share the experience through the eyes of a black individual. In those moments where Chris feels discomfort by the remarks of white characters like Rose’s family and their guests, the audience is meant to experience the same discomfort, regardless of the viewer. The shared experience between Chris and the audience serves to incite self-reflection about the microaggressions that one, especially a white liberal viewer, may unintentionally perpetuate on a daily basis.
Zombiism/ Us vs. Them
Themes of zombiism or “us versus them” can also be spotted within the narrative of the film. Despite not explicitly being a zombie film, Get Out uses zombiism as a means to criticize social expectations of people of color in America.
For Get Out, zombiism is not defined by the physical transformation of human to undead creature, but rather the complete abandonment of the black identity for the white identity. That is to say, characters whose personality and mannerisms change from that of a black individual to that of a white individual. Characters such as Andrew (the man abducted at the start of the film), change from a personality type similar to that of Chris’, to that of a older, wealthy white man’s.
Though the plot later explains how this change come about, the behavioral change is reflective of a similar change people of color must adhere to in America. For most people of color, success can only be achieved after becoming “zombies” and abandoning their roots and adopting someone else’s (usually that of a white person). By allowing Chris to liberate himself from his captors before he is transformed, Peele encourages others to combat zombiism by remaining true to their heritage.