In anticipation of the Academy Awards, we polled our contributors to see what they thought should win the Oscar. Once we had our winners, we asked various writers to make the case for our selection in each category. Here, Glenn Kenny makes the case for the Best Original Screenplay of 2017: "Get Out" by Jordan Peele. Two winners will be announced Monday through Thursday, ending in our choices for Best Director and Best Picture on Friday.
I did not see “Get Out” at a press screening; I saw it in a theater, a packed house with a paying crowd, and it was salutary to witness its effect on an audience. I had expected, as per the reviews I read, a social satire couched in the conventions of a horror movie. So I was a bit surprised and in a sense gratified to experience it as a full-on horror movie with a pronounced social consciousness. (And of course almost all really good horror movies have a pronounced social consciousness—if James Whale’s “Frankenstein” isn’t concerned with having compassion for difference, what’s it even about?)
Jordan Peele’s superbly built screenplay isn’t afraid to be unoriginal. I’m not talking about the antecedents most critics have cited, such as “The Stepford Wives.” I’m thinking more of the story construction, a classical one in which an innocent party enters a house full of sinister intents and secrets and finds him or herself increasingly hemmed in, until a point of no return makes itself felt, possibly on the edge of an actual knife. This scenario and variations thereupon have significant cinematic lineage, from “The Old Dark House” to “The Cat and the Canary” to “The Haunting” to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” All such films have an early “what could go wrong moment,” whether a single line or a whole scene. But in Peele’s film, it’s a funny, profane exchange between Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris and Lil Rel Howery’s Rod about Chris going to meet his white girlfriend’s family. The new elements of the exchange gain power from the context of a familiar set up. Just as the immortal line late in the movie, “You know I can’t give you the keys, right babe?” has an inevitability that makes it all the more terrifying. The audaciously frank ideas delivered in classical packaging make “Get Out” the most ingenious construction of all the nominees.