It has been two short years since comedian turned filmmaker, Jordan Peele, showed the world an unexpected side of himself with his directorial debut box office hit Get Out. Sparking dialogue with its social criticism, the horror film was largely well received winning 146 awards, including one Oscar for best original screenplay, while garnishing 193 award nominations.
Surprisingly, some audiences met the film with resentment, anger and negativity. Others simply claimed that the film was not scary enough. The Golden Globes even categorized Get Out as a comedy for its nomination … a decision that I still find odd, to say the least. However, I don’t think that confusion will be the case with the sophomore filmmaker’s second endeavor, Us, in which Peele bumps up the creeps and doubles down on the metaphors.
Giving a glimpsing clue as to what is to come, Us explains that the United States has thousands of miles of forgotten tunnels once serving various purposes. However, many of these tunnels indicate no clear purpose at all. According to an article published by The Wrap, there may be more truth to this than fiction, citing published author Will Hunt’s recent book entitled Underground: A Human History of the Worlds Beneath Our Feet. While there’s no evidence that Peele and Hunt collaborated, Hunt is aware of the potential for a story idea, which Peele has apparently found.
After the interesting bit of introductory information, Us opens in 1986 on a Santa Cruz beachfront amusement park. Left unattended by her distracted father and preoccupied mother, a young Adelaide Wilson (Madison Curry) wanders away on her own. The further she ventures, the more tension begins to build as she sees a homeless man holding a sign that reads “Jeremaiah 11:11” indicating the biblical scripture “Therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them.” Entering an eerie house of mirrors Vision Quest attraction, Adelaide has a traumatic experience that leaves a lasting impression.
Now, as an adult, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o: Black Panther, 12 Years a Slave) travels with her family to a vacation spot that is nearby the location of her childhood trauma. Unsettling anxiousness begins to fester as deja vu moments and omens begin to seemingly manifest. However, fear finds a gripping hold on Adelaide and her family as their rest and relaxation turns to terror and chaos when their malicious doppelgangers crash their vacation.
Leaving the movie theater, I was honestly left perplexed. The performances were outstanding and Nyong’o steals the screen with a performance that is surely award-worthy. Structurally, however, Us is a little different. Some of the buildup could have been better – you will likely walk away with many questions.
Although, plenty of sigificant clues and suggestions are there for a purpose, the film is not necessarily spelling everything out for you. This may be why some critics are describing Us as clunky, disjointed and disappointing. Personally, I believe this film simply is Peele experimenting as he crafts his own filmmaking style while deviating from the standard Hollywood storytelling formula. Though it lacks the clearcut and straightforward buildup approach found in Get Out, Us seems to be rich with depth and substance. It comes across as somewhat of an arthouse film seeking to convey a message without veering too far from traditional storytelling.
If you’re familiar enough with Get Out, you’ll know that there is a level of symbolism present in the film. This is something from which Peele does not deviate with Us. He has a message he wants to artistically communicate. With enough details as well as intentionally ambiguous explanations placed in specific points throughout the film, I find it likely that many people will see varying metaphoric meaning … or they will simply see an elaborate, complex home invasion film, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either. Although, they will likely walk away much more confused and disappointed if they don’t look deeper into the rabbit hole.
In the wake of various dialogue concerning Get Out as well as the polarized social and political climate over the past few years, I believe Us delivers a much deeper criticism of today’s society as a whole. After all, people lash out with anger and disdain on a day to day basis as society becomes more plagued with increasing stress of everyday life. This is amplifed in the cyber battlegrounds of social media where so many people feel entitled to express clashing opinions, which more often than not, sparks malicious arguments that see no end.
After several days of contemplating various angles and plot points, it is my interpretation that Peele is holding a mirror up to reflect this horrible side of humanity that has taken a stronger hold in recent years – a reflection that reveals the soulless, worst versions of ourselves that we have allowed to surface in today’s society, a darker part of ourselves that has been unleashed to wreak havoc on one another while our loathsome negativity holds hands across America. It all comes back to the eerie Jeremiah 11:11 scripture promising an inescapable evil to be released upon humanity. And what better symbolism to reflect this evil than a soulless version of ourselves seeking to untether from the bonds of humankind?
Perhaps my personal interpretation is dead wrong, or maybe I’m just a sucker for horror films with a message. Regardless, Peele is making his mark in horror with artistically depicted metaphors not seen often in today’s genre mainstream, while at the same time sparking open debate about their meaning and ramification. This is a side of the former comedian that I find both surprising and commendable. That said, there is a comedic element in Us that I found to be out of place and somewhat jarring. It threatens to overtake some of the tension and seriousness within the film.
Minor compaints aside, Us is a layered film that will make you think. It will make you think about the plot, connecting points throughout the film, crazy theories and how the work reflects on society. And with the film making headlines hailing it as the biggest grossing original horror movie for an opening weekend earning $70 million at the box office? Not only does that have me excited as a horror fan, but it is a further sign that Us is a film worth seeing.