Movie Review: Us
Director: Jordan Peele
Writer: Jordan Peele
Stars: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss
by Jason Koenigsberg
Jordan Peele has once again constructed an intellectual horror film that like his previous Oscar-winning film Get Out (2017) is very much a social commentary about America. His new film Us serves as a metaphor for the seedy, dark underbelly of America taking over. It has been a slow and calculated takeover, but the United States is at a point where our past is literally haunting us.
A quote flashes on the screen before the movie starts telling audiences that beneath the USA are many abandoned underground tunnels. The opening shot is immaculate and tells the viewer everything that they need to know. So many clues are there with a commercial for Hands Across America, a commercial showing the diverse faces of our country, and VHS tapes of movies such as The Goonies (1985), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), and most notably C.H.U.D. ( a 1984 camp classic which stands for Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers). The year and tone are immediately established with a creepy opening scene that takes place on a boardwalk at night, then we get the opening credits sequence in one long shot over a white rabbit. It starts off focusing on the rabbits eye and then the camera backs up ever so slowly to reveal dozens of rabbits in tiny cages.
After that, the film jumps to present day and the family that we are going to follow for the majority of the picture. It is an African-American family of four on their way to a beach house for summer vacation. The mother played beautifully by Academy Award winner Lupita Nyongo has some inhibitions about going to the beach and the audience soon learns that she was the little girl we saw on the boardwalk in the beginning. Her character is central to the plot and since she is the one apprehensive about the beach seldom has a sunny seashore been photographed in such a cynical lens. Her son is wearing a Jaws t-shirt, the birds look menacing, the people are not the typical attractive crowd you expect to see on a California beach, and the camera focuses on the porta-potty’s, garbage, and homeless people more than they do the beautiful waves and sunshine. Us is rich with symbolism and there is so much to discuss in that it would take up an article unto itself. The numbers 11-11 (or 11:11) are very important and reappear throughout the film. So are scissors, the color red, gloves, rabbits, and masks. Us is very much a film about fate and as redundant as that sounds especially in recent horror films, it still manages to feel fresh and have a unique voice about American culture.
At times Us plays like a standard home invasion thriller like The Strangers (2008) but it goes deeper literally and figuratively than most standard genre pictures tend to go. This is an indictment of US political history dating back to 1986 and the Reagan era. His policies which may have seemed good at the time and allowed Americans to flourish for decades are now coming back to bite us in unimaginable and painful ways. We are paying heavily for our greed and ignorance as we turned a blind eye to people as they suffered while we ignored them and for the most part did not even see them to know that they were suffering.
Like Get Out, Jordan Peele has blended comedy and horror successfully to create a sociopolitical allegory about the times we live in. Us starts out as a claustrophobic, thriller about a family being tormented by their doppelgangers but develops into a larger scale apocalyptic thriller that encompasses our entire nation as it tries to cope with a danger that we created but never saw coming. Jordan Peele proves without a doubt that Get Out was no fluke, and he has constructed another social commentary in the guise of a horror film with Us. He took heavily from The Twilight Zone, which is perfect since Peele himself is the Rod Serling of the newest incarnation of the program on CBS All Access. It also borrowed noticeably from The Simpsons but after thirty years that animated show has practically done everything imaginable. With Peele’s incredible success in film and expansion of his brand back to television, the sketch comedy star from Comedy Central is on his way to being this generation’s Alfred Hitchcock. If he keeps using horror as his method for creating smart social commentaries, audiences are in for a real treat every time he directs a new movie.