Get Out, Us, & Candyman
Jordan Peele & the Renaissance of the Highbrow Horror Film
By: Domonique Cox-Salberg
Established decades ago through artists like Alfred Hitchcock with his 60s classics Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963) or John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) horror films are experiencing a resurgence unlike any other time in film history. The modern-day highbrow horror film is made more often, mainstream, and has made higher profits than ever before—experiencing their very own renaissance. For decades this genre was high jacked and still is to a certain extent by the slasher and gore films.
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However, the last decade has been sensational, as the works of several talented filmmakers have transcended the genre. No longer are horror films exclusively derided for their exploitation, excessive violence, inept narrative, and sexual content. We now have a more significant number of successful, financially and critically, highbrow horror being made that is adding prestige and value to not only the genre but to the world of cinema. Some creators that we can attest to these developments are Guillermo del Toro, Darren Aronofsky, Ari Aster, Yorgos Lanthimos, and Jordan Peele. Although, out of all the filmmakers contributing to this new surge in highbrow horror films, Jordan Peele appears to be the one to lead the pact going forward.
Get Out (2017)
In a short time, Peele has created original content that most moviegoers recognize is something fresh, and what the industry needs. His break-out hit Get Out (2017) was praised by critics and audiences alike, and with a $4-million-dollar budget grossed over $250 million at the box office, while also earning Peele his first Oscar. What Get Out, and many other of these films have in common, is their ability to create smart layered scripts, psychological elements with substance, social commentary, high-quality production value, and innovation.
Still, Peele’s films take a step further, genuinely positioning them in a league of their own. Such as his ability to seamlessly and effectively mix comedy and horror and give the audience a perspective not explored often. That being the experience of people of color in America, who are front and center in the films he directs and produces. Doing so, Peele is helping to open up doors and inspire others to break away from the norm and create original stories. Although, this is not to say that a story is groundbreaking just because it stars people of color—that is illogical to think so and takes away from the artist’s agency. Instead, with Peele, we can see his intention involves writing stories with them in mind from the start to create rich and compelling characters and narratives.
That is what sets him apart even more from the current artist that include political and social commentary narratives in their work but forget the importance of story—something we, unfortunately, have been getting more of within the last few years. Jordan Peele understands that art and entertainment do not need to be sacrificed to make a statement and that they can co-exist in tandem, for which this practice is what continues to elevate him in highbrow horror and the world of cinema.
Therefore, the two feature films from Peele so far, Get Out and Us (2019), both navigate to uplift the genre with their effective deconstruction of racism and politics told with a dramatic and comedic tone with just enough horror. Mixing the genres allows Peele to attract a larger audience and add lightness to the serious subjects that his works tackle, which tend to be divisive.
What we also notice is the excellent production in both films that were made for less than 25 million, attesting to the raw talent Jordan Peele displays. Peele’s idiosyncratic directional choices and great taste and knowledge of horror and sci-fi themes play a huge role in his success and appeal as well. Thus, these skills have made him a creative powerhouse in a league of his own, along with his ability to turn a high profit at the box office, which is no small feat for original content.
In addition to his directing and writing credits, Peele is becoming an in-demand producer, respectively, lending his talents for highbrow horror to the highly anticipated Candyman (2020) film. Directed by Nia DaCosta and co-written by Jordan Peele, it is sure to be a hit as the trailer demonstrates high-quality production value with grand concepts that are sure to please fans of highbrow horror. As we can see, there is much more to come from Peele and his creative partners like DaCosta, which is an exceedingly exciting thought.