Although American cinema is currently enjoying something of a horror boom, few foresaw that Jordan Peele's Get Out would become the monster success that it already is after only four weeks in release.

The film has now made more than US$135 million at the US box office on a mere US$4.5 million budget. That makes it one of the most profitable movies ever made. It's also the most financially successful debut film from an African American director.

So why did this film strike such a chord with audiences?

It's tempting to cite the current "heat" around progressive film-making attitudes in Hollywood, which has seen a greater push for films that reflect contemporary diversity in America. But even Moonlight, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, has only made US$50 million at the global box office after several months in release.


The new film's success supports the notion that divisive societal issues such as racism - which Get Out confronts head on - are more successfully addressed in a film that presents itself as a genre movie. That is, a thriller or a horror or even a comedy.

Get Out writer/director Jordan Peele spent five seasons exploring America's racial divisions in his acclaimed skit show Key & Peele, which ended in 2015. So he's clearly conscious of how hot-button issues can be focused through a genre prism to great effect.

We can't get too far into the politics of the film without revealing key plot points, but suffice to say, Get Out addresses America's issues with race both metaphorically and literally. Horror (and comedy for that matter) is all about building up tension and releasing it at the right time. Peele's subject matter gives him a lot of tension to exploit, and he does so with considerable skill.

That he does this via the familiar conventions of the horror film is both quietly subversive and also an effective way to hold the hand of an viewer that may have balked at the idea of seeing a "serious" movie about race in America.

The success of the film proves that horror films are at their best when attempting something with a little more substance than mere escapism.

In this regard, Get Out follows in the tradition of socially conscious horror films like 1956's Invasion of the Body Snatchers (which ruminated on the danger of conformity) and 1968's Night of the Living Dead, whose African-American protagonist helped give the film a political subtext.

Get Out

is a lot more overt than these two classic movies in that its characters actually discuss race and racism, but it never feels didactic or preachy. It's simple proof that audiences are very willing to embrace a horror film with a little meat on its bones.

What will be very interesting to see is what Peele does next - he's about as hot as a director can get in Hollywood, and he'll have his pick of projects. I hope he sticks to the genre side of things.

Like every success in Hollywood, there's no shortage of Monday-morning quarterbacks waxing lyrical about why Get Out hit it big. Heck, I'm doing it right now. But also like every success in Hollywood, we can expect to see a rash of wannabes to follow in Get Out's wake.

If the lesson here is that horror films benefit greatly by addressing real-world issues fraught with tension, then that is a very good thing.

Get Out is released in New Zealand on May 4.