I don’t like horror movies. As a young child I was afflicted with night terrors and that combined with an over active imagination did not bode well for an evening’s slumber. As I grew older the terrors waned but my dislike for horror persisted. But every once in a while a horror movie catches my eye and I must have a look.
This weekend I headed out to see Us, Jordan Peele’s follow-up to the critically and commercially loved film Get Out which came as a shock to many people. Known for his humour this departure into the realm of horror was a surprise but looking back at the work he did on “Key & Peele” it really shouldn’t have been.
When you come out that strong off the bat, there is a lot riding on your sophomore outing. Us follows the Wilson family on vacation when one night they are tormented by demented doppelgangers. But as they fight to survive they realize that they are not the only ones.
Unlike Get Out this film is not an analysis of race relations veiled in horrific circumstances. It is a horror movie that just happens to have cast black people in the main roles. A lot of people have kept trying to find meaning in this but Peele just did it because it hasn’t really been done before.
I can’t think of a horror movie of this nature with a family in the center of it that uses a black family. So I knew just by putting an African-American family in the lead role, already we would be exploring cinematic uncharted territory…
…and even though this movie is not about race, I felt like it was an important piece of the project to have a black family in the center.Jordan Peele, Entertainment Weekly, “Jordan Peele breaks down the frightening first Us trailer”
Because of this, the movie is less subversive than I expected. It is a very straight forward horror film that has traditional beats, the appropriate amount of violence, and a somewhat predictable but acceptable twist at the end.
The thing that makes it work is the acting. Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, and Evan Alex really work as an idealized family. A husband and wife who obviously care for each other and their kids; a teenager that, though preoccupied with her phone, still interacts with the family; and a younger brother who is full of curiosity and energy. Their doppelgangers are creepy as hell. They move weird – twitching, crawling, staring, and stabbing – communicate making animalistic sounds, and are the antithesis of the family.
The directing is also great. The capturing of truly capivating scenes whether they are of the mundane or critical.
Peele has an eye for setting suspense and tension while still integrating bits of levity, because of this the movie doesn’t feel oppressive. He uses all aspects of this story telling medium to elicit responses from the audience. His use of environment, lighting, sound – not just foley but also score and music (“I got 5 on it” has been stuck in my head since I saw the movie) – and the editing all work together to construct the horrific tale being told.
With that being said, Us wasn’t as scary as I thought it was going to be. I guess this is because it is not filled with cheesy jump scares, gore, and viscera which would put it in the vein of current horror films but it was more classic; suspense and tension, with a bit of blood. But that is not a bad thing, classic horror is classic for a reason after all.
The thing is, the movie sits with you. When the film ended, the theatre was completely silent and the audience seemed confused. We all shuffled to get our coats on and waddled out the door. But as I walked with my friend we both asked, “Did you like it?” out of pure curiosity because neither of us knew what to think. As we talked about it we realized the movie just needed some time to sink in. Because it wasn’t so blatant, the subtleties and triggers needed time to…surface. The more I think about Us, the more uncomfortable it makes me feel.
I realize that I haven’t said that much about the actual film in this review as it is hard to talk about without telling you everything about it. Us is a movie to experience and I would hate to ruin that experience for anyone. It is dark, it is funny, it is weird, it is uncomfortable, and when it is over, it may take a minute, but it will get you.