A family on vacation is terrorized by a group of doppelgangers.
Jordan Peele’s “Get Out (2017)” was a brilliantly devised movie that confronted the face of racism in today’s modern society, but not only did it attack an important social issue, it also worked as a thrilling story. Horror is one of the Academy’s least recognized categories, so when they gave Peele the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, that was a huge deal, and it really speaks to the genius that went into making that film. As a horror fan, Us quickly rose to one of my most anticipated films of 2019, and let me say it does not for a moment disappoint. I don’t know if many people will agree with me, but I’m going to say that Peele’s sophomore entry is superior to Get Out, and that is really saying something.
Us attacks another very relevant topic in today’s society, but again, it works on so many levels that even without the social commentary it is darned impossible to ignore. The acting is stupendous, the writing somehow balances humor in horror in a way that continuously entertains without ever shattering the tension Peele so carefully crafts, and the attention to detail in the direction is mind-boggling. The symbolism woven into the movie is subtle enough that there are plenty of ways the film could be taken, and every interpretation is more interesting than the next. I’m trying not to overhype this film, but honestly this is one of those films that will be remembered for years to come.
I will try to avoid spoilers for the majority of this review, but I do like to discuss symbolism, so towards the end there will be a spoiler section.
“If you wanna get crazy, we can get crazy!”
Years after Young Adelaide Wilson (Madison Curry) goes missing for a short while at a beach carnival at Santa Cruz, California, the older Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave (2013)), her husband Gabe (Winston Duke, Black Panther (2018)), and their two children, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph, The Lion King (2019)) and Jason (Showtime’s Kidding) return to the same beach for a vacation. After mingling with their friends Kitty (Elisabeth Moss, The One I Love (2014)) and Josh Tyler (Tim Heidecker, Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!), the Wilsons return to their home where they are terrorized by a group of doppelgangers.
Without going into too much detail, know that the actors playing the Wilsons are all required to play two characters; think of it as a kind of Doctor Jekyll/Mr. Hyde kind of transformation. The Wilsons are a polite, happy family; the parents don’t drink much, they chide their kids for swearing, and overall they feel like an all American family. The others, henceforth known as ‘The Reds,’ are the exact opposite. The Reds are freaking terrifying, and that’s all thanks to the actors’ performances. Lupita is far and away the most frightening character as one of the Reds, but the versatility she displays when playing Adelaide is absolutely remarkable. Both of her characters required an intense amount of physicality; the role looks to be utterly exhausting, and somehow Lupita does it effortlessly. Surprisingly, the relatively unknown Evan Alex (playing the younger son) was just as terrifying in his role, and that role too had a ton of very physical moments. I was honestly just shocked at how well this kid was able to pull off the scarier bits as one of The Reds (as Jason he was fine- the horror part is where he really shines). Winston Duke, whom I know only from Black Panther, was remarkably likeable as Gabe. While his horror stuff wasn’t nearly as scary as some of the other Reds, I really grew to love his comedic timing. There are so many moments in this film where Winston is able to say a line that is absolutely hilarious given the context of the movie, but he never takes away from the horror or tension (I know a lot of that is Peele’s writing, but the delivery is a big part too). Elizabeth Moss was fantastic as always, though she didn’t really have a huge role.
The directing and writing for this film are absolutely astounding. Peele gives us so many set ups throughout the film, and nigh every single one of them pays off without feeling coincidental or silly. The world that Peele creates feels familiar enough that we can relate to the characters and their situations, but just off enough that it feels simultaneously terrifying and fantastical. There are moments that feel akin to something out of a Grimm fairytale, which is absolutely wonderful contrast when the horror starts to ramp up. The attention to detail with everything, from the costume design to the set design to the hidden meanings in the shots is nothing short of crazy. I’ve heard comments that this film is Hitchcockian, and while I wouldn’t say the story itself is something Hitchcock would’ve done (it feels more like Cronenberg- specifically Dead Ringers (1988)/ Videodrome(1983)), the meticulous direction does feel very Hitchcockian.
Where this movie really succeeds is in its ability to tell a story that works on multiple levels, much like The Shining (1980). This is a terrifying movie not only because it has some genuinely frightening moments, but also because it forces us to take a long hard look at whom we (as a country) have become.
“Who are you people?” “We’re Americans.”
This movie really starts to get crazy when we realize it’s not just the Wilsons whom are being attacked by the doppelganger Reds, but also every other person in America. Men, women, children… it doesn’t matter, they all have their own malicious Reds that are bent on killing them. While this is the spoiler section, I don’t want to reveal too much about the Reds’ backstory, because discovering that is half the fun. What I do want to talk about is what the Reds come to represent.
When people begin to question where the Reds came from, no one has an answer. Who are these Reds? Who are these people that sprouted seemingly from nowhere to take over the country, uniting in a cause that seems vile and horrific to us ‘normal’ people?
Well, much like Get Out, this film takes a look at relevant issues of today. I ask you, dear reader, that when you watch this film, think: What massive movement sprouted seemingly from nowhere to reveal the terrible sides of our country, and whose supporters have also become synonymous with the color red?
(cough MAGA hats cough, cough)
Trump and his Red-MAGA-hat-wearing supporters have revealed an ugly side of the country that many were content to believe didn’t exist anymore. I’m not saying that all of Trumps supporters are bad people (I have a few people in my family that are ardent supporters… we don’t talk politics anymore), but there are those who have used Trump’s rhetoric-filled speeches as an excuse to bring forth their racists/xenophobic thoughts and proclaim them loudly for all to hear. It’s totally surreal to me that we have a president who constantly retweets things said by white nationalists and anti-Muslim groups, and who has publicly encouraged violence against his critics.
We live in a terrifying time, but as Zora said in this film, “No one seems to care about the end of the world.”
I went into Us fully expecting to enjoy it; I did not expect to love it as much as I did. I saw the film with my brother, and since then, both of us have brought it up half a dozen times to talk about different theories or connections we hadn’t made before. I’m sure that even the third or fourth time I watch this film I’ll still be finding more references, symbolism, and humor (watch for Michael Jackson’s Thriller references- there are a ton!). If you like horror films, do not miss this one.
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