Jordan Peele’s Us hit theaters a few weeks ago and was a box office success. Many went in expecting another story layered in messaging but did not get that. For some this caused disappointment, but to me it was a relief.
When Get Out arrived in 2017 no one was ready for how amazing it was. More suspense than horror, Get Out was brilliant in the way it laid out its story. It took me three viewings to catch all of the foreshadowing, double-entendre and cultural references worked into the film. And I’m sure there’s still plenty I missed. When describing the film to people who STILL haven’t watched it I often say that no single moment in the film was bereft of a deeper meaning. Every line, every glance, every interaction added something to the story or was telling as to what was to come.
I bring this up to say that when I heard that Jordan Peele was ready to bring us his next film, I feared that he would try to return to that same formula and that it would fall short. It’s a common thing in Hollywood and it marks the downfall for some. In Peele’s case however, being in full control of the stories he wants to tell likely played a role in his ability to avoid that trap.
Don’t worry about looking for deeper messages. Us is a good, original, horror story with an amazing performance from Lupita Nyong’o and the child actors. It was fun to see Jordan Peele make a horror movie without it needing to be some groundbreaking feat. The twist left me feeling some sort of way but I can’t exactly put it into words.
In Us, the Wilson family takes a vacation to the beach in Santa Cruz. The mother, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), seems to be hesitant to go the beach though the rest of her family can’t wait. They compromise and she agrees to go as long as they leave before dark. A moment from her childhood that we see play out at the beginning of the film gives us the reason for her fear of the beach.
At the beach, her son Jason (Evan Alex) wanders off toward the same house of mirrors that she entered as a child. She panics when she realizes he’s missing and when they find him they leave. At this point, Adelaide tells her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) about what happened when she was younger and they agree to leave in the morning.
But it’s too late. You’ve likely seen the trailers and know that their doubles show up in their driveway. They eventually make their way into the house and reveal why they are there and what they want. The rest of the film focuses on the Wilson family trying to escape their creepy doubles and how this event is impacting the rest of the world.
Don’t go in trying to read into everything you see.
I know I have mentioned this twice now but I can’t emphasize it enough. If you’re going in expecting to find some deep hidden messages you’re going to miss out on the fun of this movie. That’s not to say there aren’t some hidden or subliminal messages. There are a few, but they don’t have a huge impact on whether or not you enjoy the film. There are other messages that are more on the nose, in particular the references to other horror movies and pop culture.
There were people looking at the trailer for answers about what societal messages were being sent in the movie but once you see the scenes with full context you quickly realize those messages just aren’t there. Lupita’s snapping and the rabbits being the main two I saw people wanting to read into.
Evan Alex and Shahadi Wright Joseph
I don’t know what it is about children in horror movies but their performances often stand out. Us is not an exception here. Shahadi Wright Jospeh plays Zora Wilson and her double may have been the most violent and scary of them all. You can barely tell that Umbrae is played by the same girl as their demeanor’s were completely different. The way she carried herself was different and it didn’t feel like forced acting in any way. Great direction can only account for so much of this. Shahadi was amazing.
As for Evan Alex, his tethered double Pluto did not have any lines and his mouth was burned shut but he still pulled off a great performance here. He was reduced to acting with his eyes and growling but this creepy little boy also felt real and menacing to contrast with the quiet innocence of the curious Jason.
I’m looking forward to seeing what these young actors do next.
A few “what are they doing” moments
Any time I watch a horror film I’m going to address this particular topic. It’s one of my least favorite things in horror and can change the way I feel about a film in one instant.
Get Out did not have any of these moments. Some will say that Chris didn’t panic quickly enough but that’s easy to say when we know more than he does. Once it became clear that something horrible was happening he attempted to leave and he didn’t linger in any of the scenes after that.
However, in Us there are several moments that go against my idea of people needing to act like normal people. Now, most of these scenes involves Lupita’s character who steps up as the leader of the family when things start falling apart. I don’t want to spoil too much for people who haven’t seen the film yet but some of her actions had people yelling in the theater at her character. One in particular involves her standing outside of the car and pleading with her daughter to give her the keys and get into the back seat while they are supposed to be fleeing imminent death. There are better times to have this argument. There are a few more scenes after this where she wanders off into danger that had myself and others frustrated.
By the end of the movie you can somewhat excuse these moves but in the moment they were killers.
The twist works
Another thing I hate is when a twist doesn’t make sense based on the way the movie has gone but that is not the case here. I don’t want to spend too much time on this but when I went back over different moments during the film I started to appreciate what Peele did with this twist. I also love that it left me feeling neither upset nor satisfied. There is resolution but you’re left feeling conflicted at the same time. This creates discussion and that is what I believe was Peele’s goal.
Again, you’ll see reviews from people who were disappointed that it wasn’t the same movie as Get Out and you’ll see reviews from people praising Peele’s genius. I fall somewhere in the middle in the sense that I do believe Peele did some amazing things here but overall just see this as a solid entry among good horror films with original ideas. It was also great to get to see a black family that wasn’t exceptional at the forefront of the movie. Winston Duke got to play a goofy dad and Lupita Nyong’o got to play the main hero and main villain in the film. That’s beautiful and I love Jordan Peele’s commitment to providing these opportunities to actors of color.