- Katherine McLaughlin
- 13 March 2017
Highly effective satirical horror marking the confident directorial debut of comedian Jordan Peele
When Jordan Peele was rejected from SNL, he came up with his own comedy sketch show, Key & Peele, with his former MADtv colleague Keegan-Michael Key. It's a smart and hilarious skewering of modern society and culture that calls out maddening hypocrisy. Following the modest success of 2016's Keanu (which he co-wrote with Alex Rubens), Peele's first solo outing as a filmmaker is a taut and creepy Blumhouse production that sees him shift his social commentary from comedy to horror with impressive flair.
The simple set-up of a young black man meeting his white girlfriend's family is exquisitely handled to reveal deep-rooted racism. Far from being a reworking of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Peele cannily ratchets up the tension by peppering his film with suspicious characters and creating a sense of paranoia to rival Invasion of the Body Snatchers. He drops clues throughout as to what is really going on, that on a second watch will reveal just what a precisely crafted screenplay this is.
Britain's Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams of Girls fame star as the loved-up couple, Chris and Rose, who head to Upstate New York for a dinner with her affluent, supposedly liberal parents (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener). However, it doesn't go unnoticed that this family employ black servants; Betty Gabriel as a housekeeper with a sinister grin permanently plastered on her face gives off a Stepford Wives vibe, playing gleefully into the film's themes of cultural assimilation, appropriation and ownership, while Caleb Landry Jones aces his role as Rose's menacing brother.
Chris mostly shrugs their behaviour off as the norm, but when things take a turn for the weird in a hypnotism session Kaluuya superbly alters his demeanour. As Chris is taken back to his past, the actor convincingly conveys trembling fear and helplessness. Peele places the camera directly on his face as silent tears roll down his cheeks, creating a surreal and nightmarish scene that imbues the film with a powerful sadness. The combination of Peele's deep understanding of the horror genre and his personal experience means his directorial debut is a sharp and fresh reflection on racial tensions in contemporary America.
General release from Fri 17 Mar.