Just because you're invited, doesn't mean you're welcome
A young black man visits his white girlfriend's cursed family estate. He finds out that many of its residents, who are black, have gone missing in the past.
ActorsStarring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root, Keith Stanfield, Zailand Adams, LilRel Howery, Betty Gabriel, Marcus Henderson, Erika Alexander, Ashley LeConte Campbell, Lyle Brocato, Julie Ann Doan, Geraldine Singer, Trey Burvant, Jana Allen, Jeronimo Spinx, Caren L. Larkey, Ben Ladner, Rutherford Cravens, Brad Spiers, Christopher Knittel, Mark Baynard Baggs, Avery Frawley, Debra Barone, Lory Tom Thompson Sr., Caiden Vaughn, Michael Amstutz, Gary Wayne Loper, Jack Teague, Jamie Gliddon, Matthew McCrocklin, Evan Shafran, Melody Lane Buller
This is the first feature from actor Jordan Peele, who both wrote and directed it. His acting career has veered between comedy and more serious fare, such as his role in the hard-boiled TV series Fargo. For his debut movie he has chosen horror as the genre, laced with just a touch of comedy to relieve the tension. In the film, photographer Chris Washington (played by Daniel Kaluuya) has reached the stage in his relationship with Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) that she wants to introduce him to her parents. A weekend in the countryside beckons, as they drive to the grand, isolated country property of neurosurgeon Dean Armitage (Bradley Whitford) and his wife Missy (Catherine Keener), who is a hypnotherapist.
Chris, who is black, is a bit nervous at meeting Allison’s white family, but she reassures him that her parents are liberal and will be welcoming. So it seems as the pair settle in for a family dinner, to be followed the next day by a party attended by several of the neighbours. One of the clever things about the film is the gentle way that the story is introduced, with time to get to know the characters. The conversation in the house at times is just a little off key, enough to make Chris uneasy but not so much that it cannot be passed off as the eccentricity of middle-aged people unused to outside company. The only other people on the property are Allison’s drunken brother Jeremy and a pair of married housekeepers, Walter and Georgina. As the only other black people around, Chris tries to get to know them a little, but although polite to him they have an oddly detached air. The party the next day similarly proceeds with the neighbours being generally polite to Chris but again with some off-putting snippets of conversation. Are these people just not used to having black people around or is there something more sinister afoot? The only person that is concerned that things may be amiss is his friend Rod (a genuinely funny cameo by Lil Rel Howery), who is looking after Chris’ dog for the weekend and with whom he regularly chats on the phone.
Up until now we seem to have a modern day version of the movie “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”, but things soon take a darker turn. The direction seamlessly moves from melodrama to full-on horror, and keeps the audience’s attention through both phases of the film. The acting is good, and I wonder whether the casting of Bradley Whitford was a sly reference to his role in “The Cabin in the Woods”, another film where a visit to the country goes badly awry. The film succeeds on several levels. Often horror films show a white protagonist in a threatening situation in a poor, crime-ridden neighbourhood. Here the roles are reversed, with comfortable white suburbia the threatening environment for the main character. Fortunately the film wears its deeper messages lightly, and at no time becomes preachy. It works very well as a horror vehicle, slowly ratcheting up the tension before bringing things to a head, with enough plot twists to keep a genre addict happy. Overall this is a terrific film, certainly one of the best, and most thoughtful, horror films to appear in the last few years.