Jordan Peele’s “Us” Brings Chills


Photo Courtesy of IMDb.

Fans of Jordan Peele’s strong directorial debut, 2017’s “Get Out.” will not be disappointed by his new film “Us,” which came out on March 22. Continuing to mix horror and comedy, Peele’s new film takes a more patient approach and gradual reveal of the significance of various shots and objects that bring the film to its final, beguiling twist.

        The plot follows the Wilsons, a middle-class, African-American family on a summer vacation to Santa Cruz, California. The stellar Lupita Nyong’o plays Adelaide Wilson, a trauma-stricken mother, haunted by a childhood experience in a funhouse of mirrors at the Santa Cruz boardwalk in which she saw a reflection of herself – only it was not her. The family’s vacation reopens old wounds, and Adelaide worries dreadfully about her children Jason and Zora, played by Evan Alex and Shahadi Wright Joseph. Adelaid’s husband Gabe, played by Winston Duke, provides much of the comic relief throughout the film as the adorably square, trying-to-be-hip dad, though his friend Josh (Tim Heidecker) and his wife Kitty (Elizabeth Moss) add a family dynamic that contrasts with that of the Wilsons.

        Nyong’o delivers a standout performance. Like her fellow cast members, she must do double duty in portraying two quite unique characters. But Nyong’o’s intensity and authenticity flows out from the screen and brings the viewer right into the horror she experiences. She plays the frantic and terrified mother, her twisted “shadow” and at times a Hecate-like hero who grits her teeth and descends into the underworld for a rescue mission.

Peele’s directing prowess shows why he was chosen to present the new “Twilight Zone” series, coming to CBS April 1.  Slow, patient shots that zoom out to reveal wider scenes build suspense and tension throughout the film. He manipulates perspective, including lighting, to add mystery, suspense and make the audience feel the characters’ fear and adrenaline. Teasingly, Peele offers tantalizing images that, when first shown, have no significance – such as a room full of desks and caged rabbits – but later turn out to be very important.

Another notable feature of “Us” is that the Wilsons, the heroes, are depicted as a well-to-do, middle-class, black family, something rare not only in horror films but in most genres. When asked about the importance of representation in “Us,” Peele commented to “NME,” “It’s about more than movies, it’s about how we see ourselves as black people… and it’s about how other groups view us as well […] I’m also proud I get to do this – I get to put this beautiful family on screen.”

The film is exceptionally scored by Michael Abels. The “Anthem,” which repeats at various points in different iterations throughout the film, is hauntingly operatic and sinister. It’s style clashes with the modern setting and non-original soundtrack, which includes classics like the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” and Luniz’s “I Got 5 on It” that are similarly juxtaposed against scenes that do not fit the song’s original themes, but nevertheless seem appropriate.

Compared to “Get Out,” “Us” is much subtler in its social commentary. While “Get Out” was easily identifiable in the trailer as having to do with race relations, particularly white notions of self-righteousness and racist amnesia, “Us” perhaps does not truly reveal its themes until the twist at the film’s conclusion, though some of the same themes are addressed. Like any good twist, it changes the meaning of the film and the significance of all the events that led up to it.

“Us” is full of dualities: the number 11, Black Flag T-shirts, vacations, and the protagonists and their “shadows.” The film’s title itself has a dual meaning: who are “us” [sic] as individuals and the United States? Peele recently stated, “The greatest monster this world has ever seen is the monster that happens when human beings get together…we are capable of extreme good but also capable of extreme atrocity.”

Just as he did for “Get Out,” Peele stated in the “NME” interview that he first wrote the script for “Us” for himself, unsure if it would ever be seen on the big screen.  Peele’s uniquely thought-provoking mix of horror and comedy that made “Get Out” so special is firmly stamped on “Us.” Even more than “Get Out,” which has spawned numerous fan theories, “Us” leaves even more open to the interpretation of the viewer, who will surely need and want a second helping.

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