You all know I’m a chicken shit, so even though I was curious about Jordan Peele’s foray into the horror genre, I still stayed the hell away. So far 2017 has been a banner year for me in terms of a) Not peeing my pants in movie theatre seats and b) Not bursting the blood vessels in my eyes out of sheer panic. But…you all spoke so highly of it. You tricked me into thinking I could take it. I’m looking at you, Jane. She made me believe in myself, goddammit. Totally unwarranted!
The movie itself lulled me into complacency. Chris is a city boy and a photographer, and like many men, he refuses to own nice luggage (the duffel bag thing is creepy and played out guys). Nothing scary there. Daniel Kaluuya is a pleasant surprise in the lead role, affable if somewhat guarded. He strikes me as reasonable right from the beginning, which is nice in a horror film, which are usually filled with air heads who don’t know enough TO NOT GO INTO THE BASEMENT\WOODS\DARK ALLEY. When some vaguely racist shit happens to him (he’s black), he’s just shrugging it off, not because it doesn’t bother him, but because he knows the deal. This is typical bullshit. His (white) girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams), meanwhile, gets all up in arms. Because: racism! It’s news to her! But don’t worry, she says, my parents aren’t racist at all. They’re going to love you.
They don’t love him. Dad (Bradley Whitford) goes out of his way to connect racially. It’s as awkward as you’re thinking. Mom (Catherine Keener) is uneasy, and maybe a little disapproving. Brother is overzealous. The help (the only other black people for miles) ARE FUCKING CREEPY. So yeah, big surprise, Mom and Dad are a little bit racist after all, and Rose is a little bit embarrassed, and Chris is a little bit wary. Read that as: NOT WARY ENOUGH. Even though his excellent friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery) straight up warned him not to go out into suburbia. Always listen to Rod.
Chris inevitably overstays his welcome and I’ll stop there because half the fun of watching this movie is finding out how it’s going to go down. I mean, you pretty much know what’s going to happen, but you get the pleasure of seeing the twisted stuff that comes out of writer-director Jordan Peele’s mind. This whole ugly caper is a great showcase for some social commentary, and if you know Peele’s work, you know he excels at racially-based comedy. He just makes wry observations and presents them in a way we can all laugh at. Turns out he can do the same thing with horror (minus the laughing…actually, plus some laughing. Guilty laughing. Nervous laughing).
And a note about the horror: it’s not so bad. The stuff I was grumbling about up there? That happened in the first 10 minutes, and it’s probably technically not part of the horror at all. It was a dead (well, dying) deer, who was quite vocal about her displeasure. It nearly killed me. The rest was tolerable. Yes, there’s tension: loads and loads of tension (imagine meeting your girlfriend’s parents for the first time AND getting repeatedly attempted-murdered in one single weekend!). But Peele isn’t exactly trying to horrify you; he’s trying to unsettle you. And he’s doing that exceedingly well.
A big part of why this works is the excellent casting. The performances are solidly on-point at all times, sometimes downright impressive, but no one’s trying to overshadow anyone else. It’s oddly well-balanced for a horror film, and whatever little look-the-other-way moments a horror necessitates, Kaluuya is smooth enough to steer right through. The worst part of this movie is knowing that if Chris survives, he will be defying that age-old stereotype: the black guy dies first. But even if he manages to walk away from knife-wielding assassins, there’s no walking away from racism. That shit will follow you home.