Dir: Jordan Peele, with Daniel Kaluuya
This started so well: African-American man is taken by his white girlfriend to meet her family somewhere at the back of beyond. In the city Chris knows the territory and the codes; if he moves outside it, he’s very aware that he has to remain composed and ultra-polite – something which his thoughtless girlfriend doesn’t seem to realise. Her family and friends are friendly in an edgy way: you sense and share his increasing uneasiness. The only other black people are the housekeeper and gardener, and they are strangely distant. So far, so plausible: you feel vicariously what it feels like to be an outsider from what was an horrendously oppressed minority within living memory. On a lighter note, you also smirk at the liberal whites’ way of welcoming an unwitting cuckoo into their midst.
Then it turns Stepford Wives – which, again, is fine – but in a parasitic, bodysnatcherish kind of way, and the finale when Chris escapes the operation that would hollow him out to be the new home of a blind white art dealer verges on the ridiculous. (It wasn’t just black vs white, but also poor vs rich and young vs old.) The gore and savagery was quite unpleasant in that you had a sense of real hatred on both sides (justifiable in Chris’s case, I admit). In that respect, it was an unsettling film, but – in view of the history and misuse of power – that’s not unreasonable.
But before that . . . well, it worked very well as a satire, while the sense of menace was palpable and made me shiver.
I haven’t seen The Stepford Wives for decades, but I recall that there was no escape for the women. It made for a more powerful – if downbeat and depressive – ending.