It’s perhaps surprising to see Jordan Peele, previously known primarily for his comedy work, turn his hand to horror for his feature film directorial debut. Even more so is that he demonstrates a complete mastery of the form, not only crafting a hugely effective, thoughtful and original genre piece, but arguably managing to elevate the material above that and make some profound points about our supposedly “post-racial” society. This is a horror movie where the villain is basically white people – and not the stereotypical racist redneck, but supposedly well-meaning liberals who are normally portrayed in a more positive light.

Peele’s comedy roots aren’t shaken entirely; laughs are absolutely played for and perhaps needed to offset the ever-present tension, and maybe sometimes relied on too heavily. The plot also hinges on a very far-fetched notion that dispels with realism towards the end. But this rather misses the point; the film is intended as an allegory, with heavy symbolism surrounding African-American history from the distant and recent past throughout – specific scenes openly reference the tragedies involving Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, and the protagonist literally escapes by picking cotton at one point.

Ultimately, this is a film that uses the horror genre as a lens to demand racial empathy from its audience. We see the white world through the eyes of an alienated black man, made to feel uncomfortable by a series of micro-aggressions that escalate into something much more sinister. As a piece of social critique it’s exemplary; as a horror film with a socio-political message it’s up there with the very best the genre has to offer. Peele has marked himself as a truly unique talent – proving with a deft stroke that American independent genre films can be hugely profitable with a black lead, can entertain on a basic level, and provoke thought on a richer, deeper one.

A horror film made by someone who deeply understands and appreciates the genre9
A stinging critique of the hypocrisy of liberal racial values10
Comedy elements that are mostly welcome but occasionally overplayed7
A final revelation that is very far-fetched but works as an allegory7
Jordan Peele is an auteur worth keeping an eye on9
Bechdel Test passes
  • Features more than one named female character
  • The female characters talk to each other
  • They talk about something other than men
Bechdel test failures
  • n/a
8Overall Score

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