You don’t often come across an otherwise standard horror/mystery flick that includes strident and, for white liberal audiences, discomfiting social comment. Writer/director Jordan Peele, an African American, has made a movie that holds a mirror to our bourgeois self-esteem and compels us to look at how galling our patronising attitudes must be to people of colour. It is not in the least bit subtle, but race is an issue that is only properly understood by those who are at the thin end of the wedge – the rest of us need our eyes forcibly opened wider. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a black New York photographer, has been invited by his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) to spend a weekend at her posh, upstate family home. Her father (Bradley Whitford) is a surgeon of renown and her mother (a very creepy Catherine Keener) a therapist who dabbles in hypnosis. Chris is greeted with open arms by the couple, who are at pains to display their tolerance and broad-mindedness – after Chris has been introduced to the coloured cook and gardener, Dad concedes that ‘it looks bad, doesn’t it.’ At first only mildly unsettled, Chris’s anxiety is heightened by the behaviour of guests who arrive for an outdoor luncheon.
There is something strange going on and Chris contacts his cop buddy, Rod (LilRel Howery), to inform him of his anxiety. Rod’s part is brilliantly funny and, one suspects, deliberately clichéd – Peele is not above making a joke about his own kind. He is also well versed in the techniques of scaring the viewer with tried and true music, lighting and camera angles – needing only the deftest touch, he is able to run a chill down the spine when Chris leaves his bedroom at night to sneak out for a cigarette (a woman behind me gasped in fear). Displaying all the best features of Rod Serling, Stephen King and Huxley’s Brave New World, plus a cathartic bloody ending, this one has ‘cult movie’ written all over it. And quite rightly so.