Movie Review: "Us" (2019)
Important. Transformative. Deeply thought out. A pure mindfuck. All of these phrases (and many more) can be used to describe Jordan Peele’s sophomore effort, Us. First and foremost, though, let’s clear up one thing with a word from the man himself in a Tweet from March 17th, 2019:
“Us is a horror movie.”
You’re goddamn right it is. This is no thriller, edgy drama, suspense, or action movie. This is horror in its purest form (as was Get Out), and all of the Oscar snobs and horror haters will just have to deal with that fact. I’m giddy at the prospect of the debate that Peele has opened up and widens daily in the mainstream- the legitimacy of horror. There isn’t a genre as malleable and flexible to whatever the times are. Peele knows this and uses it beautifully.
I seriously cannot wait for The Twilight Zone. But, I digress…
Us is the story of a nuclear family, the Wilsons, on vacation to their summer home on the lake. The hook is devastatingly simple- they are besieged by a family of dark doppelgängers. It’s a premise that draws you in naturally, but there’s more to the story. Family matriarch, Adelaide (Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o; 12 Years a Slave), suffered a disturbing trauma as a young girl on the Santa Cruz pier with her own doppelgänger. She’s jumpy, and the return to that place is affecting her. She’s also tough as nails and highly intelligent, the definition of a lioness. Her husband, Gabe (Winston Duke; Black Panther), is a good father and the definition of a dork. Her teenage daughter, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph; The Lion King), is the stereotypical teenager and her young son, Jason (Evan Alex; Kidding), is…well, let’s just say he’s a special boy. Together they will try to survive a world that has become a dark mirror of our own.
There are so many layers to Us. The violence is swift and jarring, pulling no punches while avoiding going anywhere near the realm of camp. There’s a smart sense of humor with pinpoint timing, breaking up the tension and reminding you of your own family and cementing the humanity of these well-acted characters. The setting is a picturesque backdrop to throw blood all over. The nostalgia factor in the flashbacks is on-point. The usage of popular music throughout is just great shit; as much as I love “Fuck tha Police” by N.W.A., I can guarantee you won’t find a better usage of it in a film EVER. The twist will punch you right in the gut and leave you smiling in agony.
Where it gets really good, though, is that all of those positives I just rattled off pale in comparison to the sheer genius of the writing. Us is a movie with multiple messages and themes that somehow manage to coexist in the same creative space without ever stumbling over each other or coming across as preachy. You can literally pick one and it offers a different take on the film. If you don’t understand the writing and filmmaking process, you may not realize what a difficult trick that is to pull off. I’m sure it looked like my jaw was broken, because it stayed on the floor for an hour and 56 minutes.
I say that without a hint of hyperbole.
Duality is the overriding theme. It’s hard to be specific, because there is NO WAY I am going to spoil anything in this landmark film. I can say, though, that the truth of the situation shows the ugliness of the nature of man while the flip side of that very same coin literally confirms the existence of God! It’s also a nasty metaphor for where we are in America in 2019, the sheer division we all experience- politically, racially, socially, and fiscally. Us is a near-perfect product of its times created by a man whose ability to tap into the human psyche is only just beginning to be realized (another reason I find it fitting that Peele is stepping into the shoes of Rod Serling).
In layman’s terms, Us is a movie that has got some shit to say. I would advise you listen up. Jordan Peele has graced us with a movie that works as metaphor (us as individuals/family) as well as allegory (us as a society/species) while managing to be a damn good straight horror film, if that’s all you are there for. Either way, you’re getting your money’s worth.
You should dig deeper, though. There’s imagery and ideas presented in Us that feel almost like a warning. Many of us have that feeling that we’re in the middle of America’s 2nd Civil War, a “non-violent” struggle born of the manipulation of humankind by the mainstream media and the Powers That Be. If you’re in that group (like me), Us will not simply entertain you….
…it will fucking terrify you.