Us: A Funhouse Mirror Of Horror Delights
The horror continues with Us, Jordan Peele’s follow-up to the critically acclaimed Get Out. Expansive and ambitious, Peele continues to swing for the fences with his social commentary and clever execution. While Us may hit the pitch-perfect tone of its predecessor, it still makes for one wild ride filled with horrific delights that only Peele himself is capable of conjuring.
Haunted by an unexplainable and unresolved trauma from her past and compounded by a string of eerie coincidences, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong'o) feels her paranoia elevate to high-alert as she grows increasingly certain that something bad is going to befall her family (Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, and Evan Alex). After spending a tense beach day with their friends, the Tylers (Emmy winner Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Cali Sheldon, Noelle Sheldon), Adelaide and her family return to their vacation home. When darkness falls, the Wilsons discover the silhouette of four figures holding hands as they stand in the driveway, pitting this endearing American family against a terrifying and uncanny opponent: doppelgängers of themselves.
With Get Out, Peele’s focus was on casual racism shown in the microcosm of one affluent family’s evil plot to use black people as vessels to preserve their own mortality. Us may be centered around a black family, but instead of only focusing on the racial, Peele opts for something more universal and fundamentally American. Though the film is about a lot of things — in some ways, a bit too many things — chief among them is the notion of America’s growing xenophobia and the fear of the “other".”
The whole notion of “Us” v.s. “Them” is, just like racism, one of those ugly, deep-seated American values, and Peele bends the concept in an interesting way, presenting a scenario wherein the “Them” and the “Us” are one and the same. Peele’s exploration of this concept creates a funhouse mirror of allusion and double meaning that not only allows the characters to see their own distorted reflections and fears, but our own as well. This is also reflected in the film’s title, which subtly indicts Americans (or the “U.S.”) as the very thing they seem to fear most and condemns us for perhaps taking our privilege(s) for granted.
Just like with the film’s title, you’ll find many elements of symbolism or metaphor hidden in plain sight. In addition to the obvious, like multiple references to 11:11 including a pivotal biblical one, seemingly small or inconsequential details — like VHS tapes of The Goonies and C.H.U.D., Jaws and Thriller shirts, toy ambulances and masks — are buried throughout, all of which service the plot in some way, foreshadowing events before they unfold. The good news here is that this gives the film high replay value, as all theses hidden details won’t likely be spied on the first watch. The bad news is that Us is so loaded with ideas that we hardly get the kind of answers that we received in Get Out.
Struggling to grapple with the many ideas crammed within, Peele writes himself into a corner that he can only dig himself out of with loads of third-act exposition. Though it’s overall message is as sharp and poignant as you’d expect, the film lacks the focus and coherence of Get Out, ultimately creating a jumble of ideas that don’t exactly coalesce. The cerebrally placed dominoes that Peele sets up wind up toppling in on themselves, leaving a whole lot of logistics that don’t exactly add up after the dust settles.
The story feels somewhat incomplete, filled with lingering plot holes — like why it was so easy for Adelaide’s double to escape the tunnel, or why the doubles’ movements are sometimes but not always mirrored by their other, or who the hell gave them red coveralls and gold scissors?! Peele’s execution and direction are all on target though, but with Us, Peele continues his trend of harvesting organs from better films — like Jaws, Funny Games, The Shining, Nightmare on Elm Street, Invasion of the Body Snatchers — to service his own Frankenstein’s monster. He continues to show a lot of promise, but still has yet to fully step out on his own, which is somewhat discouraging.
Evenly paced, we are given a substantial amount of time with the Wilson family before the horrors unfold, which really service the horrific punctuation by emotionally tethering is to them. The humor here is effective at times, namely at the beginning because it helps us form a warm connection with the protagonists, but as things become more tense, the levity often times deflates the mood; when Peele should be tightening his grip, he opts to lighten the mood, proving that he’s more about crowdpleasing entertainment, than he is about getting under the skin or being truly unnerving. Still, it’s a fun time, and it’s incredibly elevated by the dual performances of its cast, spearheaded by the spine tingling acting of Lupita Nyong’o, who should get an Oscar nod for her work here.
Despite its imperfections, you’ll find a lot to unpack and engage. Its bigger message is a powerful one, and one that’s important for America (and the world really) to hear right now. Peele suggests that perhaps we should stop drawing lines that divide us, and instead look for things that tether us together. We are Americans, and we are our own worst enemy. Maybe we need to examine ourselves in greater detail before condemning the “other,” as we may find more of ourselves than we may otherwise think.
Recommendation: Absolutely check this one out, if you haven’t already, and get in on the discussion!
Rating: 3.5 gold scissors outta 5.
What do you think? Were you crazy about Us? Is it better than Get Out? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!