by Mitchell Hillman
Jordan Peele is producing some of the finest, culturally relevant, and intelligently inclined thrillers in recent years. From the pop cultural references of the 1980s and today, to the sheer storytelling magic, Peele’s Us presents a nightmarish vision that will have you checking the driveway or the porch or the basement more than a few times when you get home. It is far more than a scary movie though–and that’s its chief strength. It IS terrifying on several levels, but it goes far deeper than cheap thrills.
Arguably one of the best films of the year, and certainly the cream of the crop when it comes to the Thriller/Horror genre, Jordan Peele’s Us is a film of polarizing opinions. No spoilers here, so don’t worry if you are among the uninitiated, but I think many of those who didn’t dig the film probably had built up unreasonable expectations based on Peele’s film directorial debut, Get Out.
This film offers movie-goers a smart thriller with enough twists to keep you guessing right up until the end and, if you do have it figured out early on, well, good for you, you’ve probably watched a lot of the same cinema Peele has. Are there parts that are predictable? Certainly, as with any film, but you absolutely can’t have the entire thing sussed so, if you think you do, you’re probably being a little bit dishonest with yourself to feed your ego some extra pride snacks.
Twists and wonderful plot twists aside–the film is amazing when it comes to the acting of the entire ensemble cast, the camera work, direction and cinematography are simply divine and the soundtrack is amazing–especially if you’re old enough to remember the various times alluded to in the film. It’s a movie that’s appealing on multiple levels and despite the twists being revealed on the first viewing–the design of the film lends itself to multiple viewings. If nothing else to catch all the references, to tie the entire story together, to really get it–in its entirety, I imagine it might take three or four viewings. For me that’s pretty close to the definition of magnificent cinema.
If Us was simply a great thriller or a spine tingling horror movie, I probably wouldn’t be motivated to write an article urging you to catch it on its second run before it leaves the theatres entirely. To be straight with you, I watch a lot of thrillers and I’m not sure how many of them have me leaving the theatre pondering existential examinations of life and explorations into behavioral psychology. Even if you had guessed a few of the twists, even if you aren’t particularly enthused by pop culture anthropology, the film has far greater questions for you and presents far greater ideas than cheap scares and wry slyness.
While Get Out was certainly socially conscious horror–Us is even more so, but on a far more subtle level, a deeper philosophical level, all with the back drop of a vacation largely set on the Santa Cruz boardwalk. Like its predecessor, the film may have you reeling for days as subtext occurs to you, more references become clear and you realize in jokes you may not have picked up on initially. So really, if you’ve already seen it, you may want to check it out again on its second run and, if you haven’t seen it, you owe it to yourself to indulge in some intellectually provocative horror.
Now if it turns out that YOU are a pop culture pathologist and you love intelligent horror and socially conscious thrill rides and you appreciate endless homage as both plot device, foreshadowing and tribute, then you’re in for a spectacular time at the movies. Jordan Peele is creating his own genre and a fascinating world of terror all his own–the dynamism of the cast combined with several horror tropes compressed into one clever story that appeals on multiple levels is no easy feat, but he’s done it here– which means he’s done it again. All I can hope now is that this is his direction.
I don’t know how kind the Academy will be to this film next year, and I don’t honestly care, but in an ideal world Lupita Nyong’o would win best actress. And, after you spend two hours on vacation with the Wilson family and their friends, you’ll understand why I say that. Again, no spoilers, but you will get it once you witness Us. Awards season isn’t usually very generous to thrillers, but Get Out got four nominations and one win last year, so who’s to say? Us is once again the complete package and, if nothing else, it’s at least clever entertainment that stands way above most of what’s making it’s way to the box office.
Every criticism I’ve heard of this flick falls pretty flat, when I found myself marveling over every detail and discussing it with friends for weeks after seeing it on opening night–and I mean my cinema-minded friends. The devil is in the details and the details are many here. You may find yourself poring over them and missing some of what’s happening. If it’s your first time, just let it happen: watch the movie and join the Wilson family on a terrifying vacation to Santa Cruz. If it’s your second or third viewing, have fun noticing every damn detail that goes into making this the exquisite thriller Peele intended. Get down to Filmbar, grab a beverage and some snacks and get ready for some cerebral mystery that relies on manipulating your psyche, more than churning your stomach–don’t worry though, there’s plenty of good old fashioned gore too. I can’t wait to see what Jordan Peele does next!
Us opens at Filmbar this Friday, May 24th.