Are you a lover of movies big, small, and in between? Then subscribe to The Popcorn Diet, a podcast for those who live on a steady diet of movie theater popcorn and other movie snacks! Like, rate, & subscribe now on iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud, Google Play, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!
Please consider becoming a Patron and helping us make more cool movie content!
Horror have always been a fascinating genre to study and consume. More so than any other film genre, it feels like horror ebbs and flows with social consciousness, tapping into what we’re afraid of as a society at the time. On the other hand, some horror is just good old fashioned fun filled with jump scares, gore, and things that go bump in the night. Your enjoyment of a horror film doesn’t have to entirely depend on the deeper meaning. Sure, the social commentary might bring depth and critical thinking, but damn that one scary sequence sure did make your skin crawl. Horror has, even with its most mundane and simplistic efforts, always offered some sort of subtext or commentary. Zombies reflect the feeling of helplessness and being stuck in societal motions. Slashers typically target those who drink, fornicate, and do drugs.
All of this to say that Jordan Peele’s sophomore effort Us manages to be both a creepy, effective scary movie as well as a deeply layered Rorschach test that makes you question everything you’re watching as it unfolds. To top it all off, it’s a film whose closing moments practically challenge you to a second viewing, turning everything you thought you knew all topsy turvy. Keeping it spoiler-free will be a challenge, because this movie has so many layers of conversation built into it.
Us introduces us to the Wilson family, mother Adelaide, father Gabe, daughter Zora, and son Jason, as they head to Adelaide’s childhood vacation home for a weekend getaway. Almost instantly, Adelaide is uneasy because of a childhood trauma that happened nearby. After a rocky first day, things go from bad to worse when a family of doppelgangers besiege the house at night, setting of a fight for survival that has deeper roots than anyone realizes.
First and foremost, Us has fantastic performances from almost everyone involved. From a casting standpoint, the movie is rather lean, with a handful of key cast members playing dual roles. Lupita Nyong’o is simply not messing around, with a pair of performances that are incredibly layered in how settling and unsettling they can be. If there were justice in the world, she’d be heavy in awards conversation at the end of the year. She offers so much to unpack in her decisions, both small and large, and her characters will be the center of some of the most heated conversations about the film.
Winston Duke is equally great as Gabe, an affable, goofy husband full of cheesy dad jokes. It’s a complete departure from his role of M’baku in Black Panther, and Duke plays Gabe as a big, lovable teddy bear of a father and husband who is the source of many of the film’s big laughs. Both Shahadi Wright and Evan Alex are great as the kids, and their doppelgangers offer the biggest creep factors when things start getting wild. Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker are also good in their smaller roles as friends of the Wilsons, helping to flesh out the world and providing both humor and horror.
As with any good horror film, the sequences of terror are what provide the rollercoaster feeling of thrills and chills, and Peele shows that he is more than adept at crafting them. Us features a number of iconic shots, sequences, and character designs that seem destined to be part of the genre for years to come. Not only is the film effectively creepy, but it is also laugh-out-loud funny. The Wilsons feel like a real, genuine family, reacting to each other and their increasingly dire situation as it feels that regular folks would.
Peele is not only a director who can put together effective set pieces and relatable characters, but also build a team of filmmakers around him to deliver top notch work that deepens the film. The cinematography by Mike Gioulakis is stunning, using the darkness of night and the brightness of daylight to maximum effect. Likewise, the haunting, creepy score by Michael Abels is fantastic, and his remixed usage of the song “I Got 5 On It” is incredibly effective, especially as Us reaches its climax.
The design of the doppelgangers (referred to as The Tethered in the film), features stark red coveralls, leather gloves, and massive golden scissors. All of these things play towards not only the memorable visage of its villains, but to also the deeper themes at play in the story.
It’s here, deep within what Us is REALLY talking about, where the film becomes an inkblot test, challenging its audience to pick apart the layers and find their own meaning. The film plays with images relating to class warfare, the current political divide in America, and asks us to question where our own worst enemy actually comes from.
I’m contemplating a spoiler article about Us, because it really does become a completely different film by it’s end, and to discuss it any further would be to completely give away the secrets. Suffice it to say, one of the brilliant ways that Jordan Peele has crafted this film is that you already know from Get Out that Us is going to be about something deeper than evil copies showing up to kill us. He’s already established himself as someone whose interest lies in dissecting society through horror tropes, so the audience is ready to read deeper into Us than they would, say, the next Friday the 13th.
What he does with those expectations is nothing short of mind blowing. Peele not only brings his audience in close to ask hard questions about what he’s trying to say, but then messes with our own answers in ways that will require multiple viewings not unlike The Sixth Sense. It’s really fascinating storytelling, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about all the questions and layers and assumptions of the world of Us since I’ve seen it. I cannot wait to get into it again.
The Final Pop
Us shows that there is no sophomore slump for Jordan Peele. Not only can he craft effectively creepy sequences of horror, but he can supplement them with relatable characters and humor. To top it off, he gives us a multilayered inkblot test of a horror film filled with iconic imagery and fascinating themes.