And down the rabbit hole we go…
On a summer vacation to Santa Cruz, Adelaide Wilson and her family are confronted by, whom appear to be, their mysterious, devilish doppelgangers.
In his sophomore effort, proceeding the critically-acclaimed Get Out, Jordan Peele returns down a path of horror filmmaking to deliver to his thirsty fans and global audiences the new offering that is Us. A creative and deliberately vague exploration of horrors undreamt of and nothing quite like what had come before it – specifically Get Out – Us was both Peele’s attempts at a more straight-laced horror film but also a centrally atmospheric, narrative-shattering, ambiguous pit of mysteries, revolving around white rabbits and golden scissors. Although not as widely accessible thematically as Get Out, Peele’s newest feature offered a more united fear in nightmarish terrors that, some ways, heightened its scare factor by holding to the screen a mirror, perfectly reflecting the audience – perfectly reflecting us.
To give it to you straight, Jordan Peele may very well be the most accessible and beloved auteur working in the public’s consciousness today. Having come up from his comic routes of Key & Peele, I don’t think anybody could have guessed what a hot commodity Peele would become in the realms of horror, Arthouse and Oscar buzz. And with only two films under his belt, I mean, that’s quite the achievement for a guy like Peele – mirroring an almost Tarantino-like ascent to power on the Hollywood scene in the span of only a couple of films with a visible, see-through style. I just want to let you all recognise that Jordan Peele is a name we should all continue to watch grow, for nothing but classics are set to surface from such a layered mind. And, of course, that would mean I consider Get Out a bonified classic – for which it is. Us, on the other hand, undoubtedly has the makings of a premature classic, but its ascent to such a grandiose title may be a little trickier than Get Out‘s.
Like I said before, Us was a film that was made with the intention of being deliberately vague. The film was not as straight-cut and as digestible thematically as Get Out – or even, for that matter, logically. People having seen Get Out and furtherly entering a cinema for Us would all be expecting ‘something’, but I promise you that what Us gave its audience was something else entirely. Firstly, you have to really applaud Peele on his ability to have used a more mainstream, but ultimately creative, approach to horror, in Get Out, to propel conversation on modern forms of racism in America. Peele managed to accomplish what all great art should and that is to create discussion on topical issues regarding the human condition… and he did it in such a way general audiences and everyone in society can engage with – a horror movie. Now, if you were expecting Us to do the exact same thing and provoke the exact same discussion – you’re right. but you’re also wrong.
Us was not exactly a film that focused in on racism and Black America as its main theme; Us was an entirely new film with an entirely new message. Whereas Get Out was more distilled and, for lack of a better term, obvious in what it was trying to portray to the audience, Us managed to certainly be more broad. Us was a film that hit on many, more vast issues in our social discourse of modernity, also proving it wasn’t a film that would allow you to entirely converge on every detail and moment upon a single idea, like Get Out. It’s for this reason I feel Us, in future, may very well be acknowledged as a more accomplished picture than Get Out, purely because Peele, without a doubt, had a lot more on his mind when writing Us than he ever had before with any other project before.
It’s difficult to really sit down and explore Us when the film has only just been released and we, as a society, are still only formulating initial ideas on the film as a whole. Us is a picture that needs to be observed and dissected over a matter of viewings and furtherly over a matter of time, although the one essential term that can be immediately unearthed as a pivotal ingredient to understanding Us on a whole would be the single word: duality.
If anything, Us was a film about duality, shown through (surprise surprise) duality. Beyond not only the central dilemma of the doppelganger families, Us would also go on to feature imagery of golden scissors (two identical blades tethered together), the number 11:11 (through time, sport scores and Bible verses) and, of course, the more thematic look at duel identities. This constant dependency on symmetry fuelled the inner workings of what Peele was seemingly trying to translate through Us.
If you were to grab a Bible and flip to Jeremiah 11:11, you would find this verse:
“Therefore thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them.”
What does that mean?
Well, I guess you could almost determine the meaning of the verse as God’s understanding that his creation is inherently evil in their wrongdoings, especially in their worship of false idols. Us was a film that led its characters down a troubled sense of faith and hope in the material, against that of God. Recalling elements of 1980s culture like the Hands Around America fundraiser, Peele seemingly explored the falsified nature of class systems in Us and society’s attempts to embody the active as opposed to the inactive. Comparing two families with a careful portrait of how upbringing is the only thing that separates the poor from the rich, in a country like the U.S. (which comes spookily close to mirroring the film’s title of Us) Peele almost utilises his film to show the contrasting barrier between two separate societal groups, but also the seething, ugly truth that maybe there is no barrier at all.
It’s difficult – really – to pick apart this film so early on into its release. As illusionary and tight as it proved to be, Us, if anything, truly understood its ability to manipulate classic cinema techniques to deliver Peele’s message more clearly. Among visually bookending the film with acknowledgements to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and ultimately entering its lore with as much mystery as Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, the best visual illusion Peele employed throughout came to recall the classic fairytale by Charles Dogson. Yes, the white rabbits in Us were more than just freaky inclusions from Peele but predominately a call back to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Follow the rabbit down its hole to another world, or, more figuratively, through the looking glass to a world so wonky and upside down that it reflects reality near perfectly, in all its ugly and deformed manners – Us could be summed up as the world Jordan Peele sees when he, himself, peers through the looking glass.
Alas, I continue to find it absurdly difficult to speak so broadly on a film obtaining so many mysteries prone to heavy spoilers. To avoid letting anything slip, lets move away from thematic discussion to the more technical genius of how Us worked as a compete film.
The most terrifying element I found when watching Us would have to have been the insanely spectacular performance of one Lupita Nyong’o. Performing duel roles, with one built up from dramatic emotion and raw passion, the other – ‘The Shadow’ – saw Nyong’o give the most dedicated, horrifying performance I have seen from an actor in years. Genuinely an actor’s piece much greater than even Toni Collette’s in Hereditary, Nyong’o’s performance in Us was so devilishly unbelievable. The best sequence I found in the entire runtime of Us came in the moment of the two families’ initial meeting as Nyong’o spoke a monologue on terms of ‘The Shadow’ sending a chill so painful down my spine and those of the rest of the audience. Hands down, the best performance of the year with no possible competition insight, I have to be honest… I don’t think I have ever been so creeped out from a single performance alone.
The film also, of course, featured Winston Duke who purely stood in to give Us an ounce of levity here and there – kind of like a stand-in version of Peele, himself. Being as how Peele has mastered the horror genre with such ease, you almost forget his first and foremost position as a comedian. Us was ridiculously funny and yet the humour never felt too heavy or out of place – it always came at the right moment, humanising the characters and allowing the audience to properly breathe in times of shear terror.
Elisabeth Moss may be seen as underrated in Us, for which she definitely was considering her performance was forced to go toe-to-toe with that of Nyong’o’s, which in the grand scheme of things, truly appeared unbeatable. Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex performed exceptionally well as the Wilson twins, almost matching their onscreen parents in their ability to evoke duel personalities so exceptionally.
Everything right down to even the costume design had me infatuated with Us. Peele quite literally thought of everything when making this film and I would definitely recommend you see this flick more than twice, just to pick up on elements you may have missed the first time. Like I said, Us was intentionally more vague than Get Out, however its ability to be more ambiguous in its actions furtherly allowed the horror to be more suspenseful and creepier. And with its vague ambiguity, Us could quite literally be watched by the casual filmgoer, with no intentions of upheaving a deeper meaning and purely just trying to receive a horror fix; working because its shadowy nature could be seen from duel perspectives – one insightful and one just purely horrific.
So, do yourself a favour and go see Us. If anything, this film was unique and creative to the extent that it was undoubtedly fresh. Peele continues to revolutionise the way horror should be utilised in filmmaking and, quite frankly, I think the casual paranormal possession, slasher thriller no longer has a place in a world where the greatest horror to befall the big screen is, quite simply… us.
Us is, in fact… LOST ART
- LA, 2019, Us (2019), IMP Awards, TMDb, viewed 30 March 2019, <http://www.impawards.com/2019/us_ver3.html> (Featured Image)
- Dargis, M 2019, ‘Us’ Review: Jordan Peele’s Creepy Latest Turns a Funhouse Mirror on Us, The New York Times, The New York Times Company, viewed 30 March 2019, <https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/20/movies/us-movie-review.html>