Loved loved loved loved this incredible work. Where even to start? The brainchild of Jordan Peele (co-everything for Key & Peele and haver of a white wife) this psychohorror/thriller follows an interracial couple, Daniel Kaluuya (the American Idol episode of Black Mirror) and Allison Williams (Peter Jennings’ daughter) as Chris Washington meets his girlfriend Rose Armitage,’s white family for the first time.
The intersections between very real dangers for black people and a more exaggerated science fiction/horror element blended to settle perfectly in the in-between of believable and not.
The first scenes establish Rose and Chris’ relationship dynamic. Rose seems woke-ish, she understands some basic boundaries and is aware of racism in general but also does some things that I felt were fucked up/belying a fundamental misunderstanding of certain elements of the situation, like not telling her parent’s he’s black because “it doesn’t matter,” and insisting her dad’s not racist because he loves Obama. Also on the way there (of course they drive to this suburban middle of nowhere forest for rich white people) they hit a deer and the cops come. The cop asks to see Chris’ ID even though he wasn’t driving and he’s complying and Rose starts saying, “this is bullshit” and challenging it. The cop decides to give the ID back without checking it and leaves. Chris ended up thinking it was “hot,” I was annoyed at her because it felt like she was putting him in danger needlessly.
They get to the house and things are intensely fine, and by that I mean the smalltalk and little jokes are turned all the way up and there’s a house tour that the dad (Bradley Whitford!!!! Josh from The West Wing!!) insists on doing immediately. The house tour reveals some things, namely the black servants/groundspeople the family has (Georgina & Walter, played by Betty Gabriel and Marcus Henderson respectively) and that Rose’s mom is a psychiatrist whose office is in their home.
They have lunch outside and the mom whose name is Missy (Catherine Keener-The 40 Year Old Virign) offers to help Chris quit smoking through hypnosis. Dean (the dad) is pushing it a little hard and she tells him to back off. Chris has a “what the fuck” look on his face in about 40% of all these scenes but is being very cordial and has a sense of humor about the weirdness.
They go to sleep and that night Chris gets up to go smoke a cigarette outside (only bad things come from smoking cigarettes, you heard it here first!!) and a couple things happen. Walter (the black dude who is a groundsman and has been ominously chopping wood for the majority of his time on screen so far) comes sprinting out of the woods towards Chris and only diverts his path at the last second, running away into a different part of the woods. Then Georgina is in a lit window seemingly watching the whole thing, but when we look back she appears to just be admiring her face and hair in her reflection in the window. Chris goes back in the house and Missy is sitting in her psychiatrist’s chair and invites him in “for a minute.” He sits down and she starts asking him questions that are getting more and more uncomfortably personal and when she asks him where he was when he found out his mom died he says, “I don’t want to think about that right now” but she keeps stirring her tea (lol- the irony of TEA being his hypnotic trigger is so layered and funny to me) and HYPNOTIZING him into telling her until he’s mind trapped and can’t move. She fucks with him until he is paralyzed and crying and she tells him to “sink into the floor.” Then he falls into his own mind, this black abyss of stars and at the top is the square of reality that he can see but now can’t interact with.
He wakes up gasping and maybe crying a little and it seems like it was a dream but later on the lawn Walter confirms that he was up at night and did spend a lot of time in Missy’s office with her. Chris tries to tell Rose and she’s like, “omg MOM I can’t believe she did that lol so embarrassing” and brushes it off. This is also the day of some big party where all their white friends and family (I think it’s her grandpa’s birthday?) come and he is subjected to endless micro (and macro) aggressions. Lots of old white people making comments about his “genetic makeup” and listing all the black people they know.
Oh also something I forgot is they have dinner with Rose’s brother (Caleb Landry Jones as Jeremy) who gets into town and he is an intense lacrosse player or something, he really likes MMA and intimidation and drinking and having freckles. They have sort of a charged interaction and he almost puts Chris in a headlock (but jokingly? Not really) but it gets diffused before that happens.
The casual picnic racism becomes even weirder when there’s another black dude there who’s not The Help and Chris goes over to him.
Something I forgot to say is that the very first scene of the movie is Lakeith Stanfield (from Atlanta!!)’s character, Andrew Logan King, walking through the suburbs, muttering to himself and scared to be in this all white neighborhood. He’s looking on his phone for a house when this white car starts to slowly follow him and he goes,”not today” and turns around but then someone in a knight mask STABS HIM and drags him into the trunk of the car. Then it’s the title credits and we go into Chris & Rose’s stuff. But I loved this because for so so so long, lots of horror movies (and regular movies and TV) have been casting and broadcasting irrational white fears based on stereotypes and reinforcing them over and over again, like white women being raped by aggressive black men or gangs of angry black teens assaulting/killing someone for no reason. And it was so refreshing to see instead black people’s very RATIONAL fears of white violence served in the same way, on a big screen and without contest or context.
Chris tries to talk to Andrew Logan King and says it makes him feel comfortable to see another black person there, then Andrew answers him but he talks like a white narrator in a Crisco commercial from the 50’s. He’s also wearing a straw hat and suspenders and is there with a white lady like thirty years older than him. Chris (who is a photographer) tries to take a picture of him covertly but the flash ends up being on. When the flash hits Andrew’s eyes he CHANGES and his nose starts bleeding and then he runs towards Chris yelling (in his normal voice now) “GET OUT Get the fuck out of here!!” and then quickly gets ushered inside by many white people to get some “rest.” Which is also what the mom said Georgina needed when she convulsed a little pouring the sweet tea at lunch earlier.
Rose and Chris take a walk in the woods (Perhaps if you go back and read that book thinking about the bear as an allegory for racism, it holds up and perhaps Bill Bryson is woke as fuck. I’d certainly like to think so) and Chris says he needs to leave and first she’s annoyed and Turns Her Back On Him to face the lake, but then he tells her stuff about his mom’s death and says she’s his family and he doesn’t want to leave without her. She is happy and crying and they decide to leave together. While they are on this emotional journey, everyone back at the party is betting ON CHRIS to own him with Bingo cards.
Aside: The man who “bought” him in cards was this blind man who was the only person at the party to talk to him like a real person, about art, and his work and the world. BUT later after you see how they choose men for Rose to bring back it becomes very clear, she probably chose him at the wish of this man who wanted his eyes. This knowledge in hindsight brings their interaction to a whole new level of fuckedupedness.
This is when everything starts to shit the fan (sometimes there’s not enough time and you need to combine idioms!!). Rose and Chris separate to get packed and Chris sees this open door to a hideaway cupboard/little attic. He looks in and sees a red box. Earlier, when he asked Rose if she told her parents he was black he also asked if she’d ever dated a black guy before. She said no but that it wasn’t a big deal or something. But THEN in the red box, after a few pictures of her in high school plays and some old black and white selfies, there’s SO MANY pictures of her with black boyfriends, like eight or nine. The second to last one is Walter, the groundsguy and the one after that is Georgina!! Then Chris is like, Oh Fuck, because it’s also when Rose comes back in the room. She can’t find the keys but he’s outta there and down the stairs. The whole family is positioned downstairs like creepy dolls just waiting and the brother is in front of the door, brandishing a lacrosse stick, his white weapon of choice.
Tensions keep rising and Chris keeps saying, “Rose. Rose. Rose!” like, bitch you need to find these keys and she keeps crying she can’t until all of a sudden her face clears and she holds them up and is like, “You know I can’t give you these right?”
WHAT THE FUCK!!! Then the whole family conspires to trap him and they hypnokidnap him and strap him into this armchair where he has to watch a video that basically shows that they’ve been neurologically enslaving black people for over 20 years, who knows how long. A calm white man in the video explains they cut out the motor functions part of the brain and connect it with someone else’s so the black people are trapped in their own brains unable to speak or act (but aware) while some white person uses their body like a car.
In the most ironic twist in the whole world, COTTON saves him, (I really want to read all the dissertations about racial symbolism in this film that I both assume and pray are coming) he balls some of the armchair stuffing and puts it in his ears so he can’t hear his hypnotic trigger, then takes out the brother with a Bacci ball (classic white death) and kills everyone else except Rose. She is in her room eating Froot Loops out of a glass with a STRAW (what in the WORLD), researching NCAA players, looking for a new victim. She eventually hears her family being murdered and comes out with a shotgun. Chris puts the pedal to the medal but accidentally hits Georgina and then has a PTSD flashback because his mom got killed in a hit and run and was left to die. So he scoops Georgina up and brings her along for the ride but after Rose yells “Grandma” and we see the scar on Georgina’s forehead, and Georgina tries to kill Chris when he’s driving, it’s very clear that the white lady’s mind is in there. Which makes sense why they kept saying the whole dang movie their black servants were, “like family,”(Walter is the grandpa) even though white people also say this all the time when there’s no brain-swapping involved. (White guilt is a helluva drug). Rose catches up and is going to shoot Chris, then Walter is like, “let me do it” so Rose gives him the gun, but she doesn’t know Chris flashed a light in his eyes so he’s himself again for a minute. He kills Rose then kills himself, which was devastating to witness.
Chris is trying to kill Rose some more when a cop car pulls up and it’s HORRIFYING because you KNOW they’re going to side with this bleeding white girl and not the black man but then it’s Chris’ friend Rod who’s been looking for him and is in the TSA!!! Rod is played by LilRel Howrey who is hilarious and provides some much needed comic relief throughout.
That’s basically the end. This movie was incredible and everyone should go see it even if you don’t like horror. It’s beyond that. Jordan Peele gave some interviews about his influences and that he just wrote down everything he liked about those movies then tried to recreate what he loved and I forget what the others were but one was the original Stepford Wives and that vibe is very strong and great. The performances were all around INCREDIBLE, especially Betty Gabriel as Georgina, Lakeith Stanfield as Andrew Logan King, LilRel Howery as Rod Wiliams, Allison Williams, and Daniel Kaluuya. Phenom.
The movie is incredible, and watching it in the theatre was especially incredible because people were laughing, clapping, gasping, it really is a whole experience. I loved it.
Five out of five hypnotic suggestions, would masturbate again.