Rated R for really intense violence. If you watch that trailer, you get it. It's violence involving scissors and sharp objects. Everyone is in peril, including kids. It's a movie that rides hard on its intense imagery, so be ready to squirm, like, a lot. If you haven't seen the trailer, I almost want to recommend that you don't. I will talk about it later, but it is very, very scary. There's also some burns that can be pretty gnarly. R.
DIRECTOR: Jordan Peele
Yeah, people are torn on this one. I get it. I do. But I can't help but tout Us as a work of genius. I'm going to defend the living daylights out of this movie. Is it perfect? No. Is it really close? Yes. Someone said to me yesterday that we are living in the Golden Age of Horror movies. I responded with the '80s were probably the Golden Age of Horror movies, because I'm a nitpicky turd. I get what he was saying. This was an argument that we live in an age where genre is starting to be respected. Rather than simply making movies that have scares and calling it a day, a handful of genre films try to elevate what makes a movie great. Should the end result be simply scares? I can think of lots of movies that terrified me that might not be considered great films. Jordan Peele is kind of leading the movement of still making authentically scary movies, but also movies that are so narratively tight while actually addressing social ills. Jordan Peele makes movies that show that passion can take any story and make it amazing film.
Now, we're also in the era of A24 films. Peele's horror probably shares a lot in common with the films under the A24 banner. I'm going to declare SPOILERS right now because I really want to break down so much of this film. There is a lot that I just need to process and this is going to be the venue for that. The opening shot of the film is so perfect. Can I please applaud the opening? Yeah, I have learned to watch for details in Jordan Peele movies after Get Out. Peele might be the most artistic fanboy that I've ever seen. I love Edgar Wright (and I won't shut up about it). Both of these guys are cut from the same cloth. Rather than relegating their passions to dorky things, they integrate them so seamlessly into their films and it works. That opening shot with the television playing Hands Across America is a single shot that tells so much about the movie...only after you have seen it. It hits this second chord that I find absolutely marvelous. The one tone that is really hard to hit right is nostalgia. Nostalgia can be pretty alienating when a director is really shooting for nostalgia. I think that's what my main complaint for Ready Player One was. It's that line that Stranger Things rides pretty hard. I don't know what it is about the '80s. Again, I'm the target demographic for a lot of this stuff. Jordan Peele is older than I am, but not by much. He would have been a senior when I would have been a freshman. We grew up with a lot of the same surroundings. But the entire movie isn't a tribute to his childhood. I tend to find nostalgia a bit of a virus when it comes to storytelling. Most movies really ride the nostalgia card pretty hard. But really, we only get snippets to this era. As much as I dug Captain Marvel, it couldn't really get free of the burden of looking at the '90s. Instead, by starting the movie in '86, Peele can scratch an itch pretty hard. That beginning is so removed from the rest of the story. It is vital to the piece as a whole, but the setting of the carnival instantly engrosses us in the movie. I want to look at the little things on that shot. One of the things that I think really alienates people is that it takes some work to get to the theme. But the opening shot has that. It's the Hands Across America commerical. Showing the gentleman digging through the trash is a commentary on class structure. Hands Across America, I'm sorry to say, didn't do much to stop poverty. It just was the precursor to Internet wokeness. I know that's ironic because I run a blog and I tend to be woke while blogging. You have the C.H.U.D. VHS right there. Us is about CHUDS! Then there's The Goonies. Of course The Goonies were part of the '80s. We could chalk it up to that. But wait, "It's our time up here?" He straight up homaged the quote. Honestly, the only tape I didn't really get was A Nightmare on Elm Street. I'm sure if I Googled it right now, I'd get some response that would make me happy. But I'm not going to do this because I have too much writing to do. Do you understand that a single shot made me this happy? It made me wildly happy.
Winston Duke, in two films, just climbed up the list of my favorite actors. I thought he was just M'baku. That's it. I thought he was always going to be the physically intimidating guy in everything. I suppose that he still is. But I've never been sold on anyone playing a dorky dad than Winston Duke. In terms of performances, this movie owns. I don't want to downplay Lupita Nyong'o's performance whatsoever because she's so darned good. But Winston Duke was the one who surprised me. Every person in the movie plays double duty. It would be too simple to say that you play your character and then you play the zombie version of your character. But the doubles are way more complex. I'm trying to imagine if I was on the set as one of the doubles. Some of the doubles don't have originals that we see on screen, so I had to kind of think about this. The doubles are, by-and-large, vapid. They are following orders, but we can't know that there's anything special about Red or Adelaide. One of the big complaints I debated was why Red toys with Adelaide's family. I saw the end coming, but I didn't mind at all because it fit in pretty nicely. But that end, that seemed to just be another twist, is the reasoning for most of the film. It's such an interesting decision to make to have Red be the original Adelaide. Yeah, it feels very Sixth Sense, but it isn't. All the choices that the doubles do really tie into Red's isolation. The more I think about it, the more that Red plays the role of revolutionary. Whoever Lupita Nyong'o is, she has a template of being special. The woman who would be Adelaide is the only one to abandon the hive. She does so when the woman who would be Red also was called to leave. But Red ended up being a creature of revenge while Adelaide ended up being an artist. It's the assumption that the underground people were evil that the world of light is morally good.
But it's all about privilege. Adelaide came from a world of have-nots. She does something abhorrent to get free. She kidnaps her double and swaps places with her. She chains her to a bed. But once Adelaide was given comfort, she picked up language. She became normal. The film posits that these people were born without souls. The doubles were never really people. But Adelaide gains a soul. She dances and becomes a loving mother. Yeah, she holds the secret shame in her heart. But she seems pretty normal otherwise. Okay, I hate small talk too. I'm not one of the doubles (despite the fact that I'm wearing red and have scissors in arms reach). It's easier to think of the people of the underground as second class citizens. And that's the break in the story. Yes, the protagonists are people of color, but the movie is stressing that morality is almost the burden of the rich. People do what they can to survive. It doesn't mean that the poor are below morality. But if I ever seen an allegorical version of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, I can't see it otherwise. So when Red tells the story of the people in the shadow, that story comes from being have-nots. What would it be like if the people we stepped over all day rose up? We think crime is bad now, but if the poor decided to make a Hands Across America display one day? I don't even know how we would handle it. It would just be pandemonium. I love the way that Peele played off assumptions to what the movie would be about. I had no idea that the doubles involved everyone. The one casting moment that I thought was a little bit off was Tim Heidecker, but I suppose he fills the role fine. I actually love Elizabeth Moss (that's not shocking. Why did I word it that way?). Having their characters as the revelations for the doubles was interesting. But I love the statement...and when I mean "love", I mean I'm wildly depressed about the state of our society. But I like how it is implemented.
Oh man, my mind is blanking. There was one big point that wanted to make and I completely forgot it. Can I say that the movie is appropriately scary? I guess I have to compare it to Get Out. I think I'll always adore Get Out as one of the best horror movies ever made. It wore its message on its sleeve and it was scary. But the thing about Get Out is that it feels like social commentary. There's not that much scary stuff happening throughout because the film builds to a climax. However, Us is a different beast altogether. Us has a slow setup, but it doesn't really let up. If Get Out is spooky, Us is meant to play with our adrenaline. In the same way that Jurassic Park fires a starter pistol to get the events going, Us plays on the same notes. The protagonists are always on the move, moving from danger to danger. If I'm in the Jurassic Park camp, I love how the doubles have very specific personalities. Pluto and Umbrae are as different as can be, but both present their own threats. Honestly, there's something really disturbing about both that the parents don't have. I know the iconic one is Pluto, but I have to give points to Umbrae for scaring the living daylights out of me. The pleasure that she gets from chasing down her prey is downright terrifying. Pluto is more of an interesting character. But each of these doubles holds a tie to their originals. It's really bizarre. Regardless, I adored Us. I know that I'm going to make some enemies with this one. But I wanted something that was quality that wasn't just another Get Out. That's exactly what I got.
OH! I REMEMBERED WHAT I WANTED TO TALK ABOUT! People were annoyed that the answer to the doubles was kind of corny. Agreed. It was kind of corny. But you know what else was corny? The reveal for the plan from Get Out. Horror movies get corny. It's how it is treated that gives the movie legs. I will say that I don't get the rabbits things besides the "spawn like jackrabbits" idea. Also, what's with Jordan Peele and rabbits. He had the "run, rabbit, run" thing going on with Get Out and now this. Maybe they are just creepy enough to include. Regardless, I adored it.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.