The hype is real with this movie. Successful sketch comedian Jordan Peele’s directorial debut unleashed a hype even before it was released. This weird trailer left open enough questions to pique many people’s interest while creating a truly unsettling vibe. His addressing racial tensions as one of the first post-Trump-election movies hits close to home and in addition, we haven’t seen that many horror movies from the perspective of a black protagonist. In what he calls a “social thriller”, Peele unveils the covert, probably unwitting ways we (the “liberal elite”) act through which racism still persists and turns them into one of the smartest horror films of the past few years.
Since it is best seeing this movie with as little knowledge as possible, I will only outline the most basic plot points:
After an opening scene with a pretty effective one-shot, the film introduces our protagonists: Chris (Daniel Kaluuya, Emily Blunt’s partner in Sicario) is invited by his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams, Marnie from HBO’s Girls) to spend a weekend at the mansion of her rich parents. He worries that she didn’t tell them that he’s black but she appeases him and later even puts a prejudiced police officer in his place. As they arrive at her parents’ residence, they welcome him warmly. They are later joined by more rich white people, who are very interested in him to a weird extent. The movie establishes a tense atmosphere of uncertainty with white people repeatedly accidentally stepping over the line, which always leaves the viewer wondering if there is something wrong at all. The most obvious hint, however, are the black employees (housemaid and housekeeper), who are behaving very unusually.
Although hardly anything of importance happens, the movie steadily increases the creepiness of the atmosphere. This atmosphere is interrupted, but mysteriously not destroyed by the frequent comedic scenes. These are mostly centered around Chris’s buddy Rod, whom Chris calls a few times because he is so creeped out by all the weird stuff that is happening. Rod is played by LilRel Howrey, who steals every scene he’s in, not with particularly clever lines but by representing the audience’s thoughts (especially the way many black people watch movies).
The other cast members consistently do a very solid job, with Daniel Kaluuya probably having his breakout role with this. How he reacts to all these uncomfortable and weird situations, how his face can convey the slightest change of emotions showcases his talent and earns him many close-up shots. At the end of the movie, I was pretty exhausted from the consistently tense atmosphere and very positively surprised. Even through the third act isn’t quite as tight as the first two, this movie feels very fresh and enormously well thought through, not just in its playing with expectations.
From then on, things take a pretty crazy path I haven’t seen coming. Peele’s script very cleverly subverts all the racist mannerisms and the resolution aptly puts everything into perspective so that everything(!!!) makes sense that seemed so creepy before: The guy that was kidnapped in the beginning of the movie, who I totally forgot about, becomes the absurdly dressed black guy. Walter dashing through the forest is revealed to be Rose’s grandfather, who was beaten by Jesse Owens. Even the dialogue about the black employees is added a layer of ambiguity after the fact, all of which definitely contributes to the quality of the script. The third act goes nuts and up until the point that Chris escapes his captivity feels less crisp compared to the rest of the movie. The sudden outburst of violence (the deer antlers, holy moly!) in the escape sequence feels deserved as the whole movie has been so passive-aggressive and uncertain and thus building up to the escalation of the racial tensions. Peele grabs you so hard by the balls that even the very last scene subverts your expectations.
all images (incl. title image): © by Universal Pictures International, taken from the Austrian official homepage