Jeremiah 11:11 – Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them.
Two of the mostly highly anticipated writers/directors in horror currently are Jordan Peele, of Get Out fame, and Ari Aster, known for the deeply terrifying Hereditary. Both directors had only released one horror feature film apiece, and yet, they had created such a stir in their directorial debuts it is impossible to ignore them as heavyweights in the genre. Whilst we still anticipate Aster’s follow-up film Midsommar, for release later this year, we can be excited by the recent release of Peele’s Us. Us centres around Adelaide, played by Lupita Nyong’o (Star wars VII/VIII/IX, Black Panther, 12 Years a Slave), and her family on their holiday to Santa Cruz; cue flashbacks to a traumatising memory of a lost young Adelaide in a house of mirrors and a haunting ‘double’. In the present, Adelaide experiences a series of coincidences which causes her to feel like her double from her past is coming for her, and she’s not wrong. After some scene setting and character development the family become terrorised by another family who are exactly the same as themselves, well almost, they mostly make animal noises, but regardless, the signature single glove, red jumpsuit and shearer scissors evident in the posters come to life in the duplicate family known as the ‘tethered’ – which means to tie up or limit movement with some suggesting it may be a slavery reference, although in this case it quite literally creates ‘the other’. It is a fight to survive.
In an interview with Marc Fennel for The Feed Peele stated “nothing really compares to the feeling of getting an audience to shudder…….. nothing beats hearing the audience be afraid and then giggle afterwards” (Marc meets Jordan Peele, The Feed, 2019). It’s this attitude towards story telling and the playful art of filmmaking that is certainly present in Us. He draws on tropes and styles from much loved horror films, referencing them in costumes, camera angles, and the stereotypes used to create Adelaide’s family – the goofy dad, played by Winston Duke (Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War), slightly uptight mother, son who doesn’t quite fit in, played by Evan Alex (Kidding, Mani) and teenage daughter who is too attached to her phone, played by Shahadi Wright Joseph (The Lion King, 2019) – with one distinct challenging to the standard whitewashing of horror, these are people of colour (a stereotype that is marvellous to see challenged by Peele once again).
There are some insanely intriguing and visually appealing things about this movie. But first and foremost is the acting. All actors had to play two roles, themselves and the Tethered, so in a film with a leading lady, Adelaide, this leading lady had to play two of them, often playing off herself, arguing with herself, even physically fighting WITH HERSELF! Lupita Nyong’o is hands down one of the best parts of this movie; she is terrifying, haunting, and absolutely sensational. She switches between doting mother and scissor wielding copy, all while showing the connection they have to one another. She nails the terrified cry and sends chills down your spine with the voice and laugh adopted for Red (her tethered). The next marvellous thing in this film is the score. Composed by Michael Abels, who also did the score for Get Out. The score is eery, edgy, used for humour, used for horror and paired perfectly with moments of silence to build suspense.
Following any debut it is difficult not to draw comparisons in the same way it is difficult not to have your expectations and judgements clouded by the success of a debut. In this case it is unfair to compare Us with Get Out. Get Out was cerebral, tidy in its storytelling and created a distinct social commentary on racism within America, although arguably evident worldwide. Us is less tidy and focuses on a larger attitude towards ‘the other’. In an interview Nyong’o discussed her take on the film, she said, “right now, in this world, we are riddle with fears of the other. The other country, the other culture, the other ethnicity, the other race, the other gender; the monsters we point fingers at are outside our very selves, what about the monsters that live inside of us…….” (Marc Meets Lupita Nyong’o, The Feed, 2019) or as Peele stated, “what if the invading force that we are so afraid of has our face?” (Marc meets Jordan Peele, The Feed, 2019) Hidden in the shadows are the tethered, the other that we fear in this film, but they are tired of living below, tired of always being in the shadows, existing the same but unnoticed, unacknowledged and this unsettlement leads to a sort of uprising. These themes are highlighted in the lengthy monologues carried out by Red, which some would argue as clunky but I felt were befitting of a leader of an uprising. As a greater demand is placed on Hollywood to create films that demonstrate a larger array of experiences – people of colour, disability, different gender and sexual identifications, race, women – it is important to see films such as Peele’s. He creates stories that make the audience identify with people who may not be the same as themselves, he demands you walk in someone else shoes, and then he scares you silly, makes you root for the characters, makes you feel what they feel and in both Get Out and Us that is such a critical part of what he stands for, greater representation and greater understanding.
Peele has cemented himself as a master of humour and horror simultaneously. This film made me laugh out loud and then drastically shift to holding my hand over my face in the space of two seconds. It features one of my favourite scenes in a horror ever – no spoilers but keep your eyes peeled for a scene featuring Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys. It had a story line I could see coming much earlier on than perhaps I would have liked, although I wouldn’t have guessed entirely how it would play out. And there are still a number of confusing elements, although these can be ignored if you accept the work as fictional horror, which of course it is, and therefore it does not have to follow logic 100% of the time. But after finishing it all, I just want to watch it again, I just keep thinking about it and how clever it is, so with this in mind I give this Us:
Four and a half Birds* – Erin
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