JORDAN Peele is best known for being one half of comedic duo Key & Peele, so it might come as a surprise that with his debut feature he has created one of the boldest, most smartly written and sharply sardonic horror movies of recent times, one that functions as much as a biting social satire as it does an unnerving racially themed horror.
Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) is a young black photographer who is invited by the parents of his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) to stay at their remote, affluent home in the countryside. Chris is immediately on edge, inquiring pensively if they know he’s black. “Are they racist?” he asks. She assures him no.
After a long drive that involves accidentally hitting a deer and being stopped by an overly inquisitive cop, the two arrive at the lavish estate home and the usual getting to know you chit-chat begins. At first things seem fine, if a little uncomfortable. But soon Chris starts to notice there’s something very strange about the behaviour of his would-be in-laws.
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Brain surgeon father Dean (Bradley Whitford) constantly grills him with questions about his interracial relationship with his daughter, therapist mother Missy (Catherine Keener) wants to hypnotise him to stop him from smoking and brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) comes on too strong about Chris’s physicality. Not to mention the fact that their house is run with the help of two black people who work tirelessly for them and exhibit some extremely odd behaviour.
Peele has made the kind of film that few experienced directors would ever dare, never mind as their first. The brilliance of it is the way it weaves together head-on explorations of racism, racial anxiety and the social construct of superiority-based skin colour in a genre where black characters are usually side-lined, stereotyped or, indeed, one of the first ones to get bumped off. It couldn’t feel any more relevant for today.
But as much as Peele is saying genuine things with his film, as a piece of cinematic art it’s just sublime. He uses a playful mix of disquieting score, space within the frame and our sense of expectations to ratchet up the tension until it resembles a claustrophobic nightmare that’s as deeply unnerving as it is hypnotic to behold. It manages to evoke great horrors of the past from Night Of The Living Dead to The Shining and beyond without ever feeling like it’s copying them.
It all adds up to a social conscious horror so brilliantly crafted, thoroughly thought-provoking, darkly funny and penetratingly disturbing that already marks Peele out as one of the most exciting new talents of the genre working today.