Movie Review: “Us” terrifies and confuses

Us Movie ReviewCam A. Johnson/THE REVIEW
Jordan Peele terrifies on the big screen once more.

BY
Senior Reporter

Jordan Peele shows that he is the king of horror in his latest film “Us,” the second installment of his emerging horror career. “Us” is a thought-provoking, mind-bending film that terrifies its audience with underlying themes about present-day America — and humankind.

This movie is not a movie about race in the way that his freshman film “Get Out” explored race and racism. This movie is more about the “haves” and the “have-nots,” the evil of mankind and how “we, people” or specifically “us” can be our own worst enemies.

Additionally, “Us” illustrates that evil can masquerade as good and that selfishness can destroy everyone around simply because we feel entitled to do as we wish. Moreover, it deals with society’s tendency to ignore problems and situations that we don’t understand while being oblivious to other people’s situations.

The film calls to mind the homeless, the mentally ill and the displaced in America who, through no fault of their own, are marginalized and ignored in the richest and most powerful country in the world.   

The film is visually appealing and starts with the backstory of one of the central characters, Adelaide Wilson, portrayed by Lupita Nyong’o. Adelaide is a little girl with uninterested and self-absorbed parents who aren’t intentionally neglectful but just busy being angry with one another. She wanders away at a carnival and suffers a traumatic experience that requires therapy and highlights the struggles she encounters during her healing process.

Simultaneously, the “Hands Across America” anti-hunger and homeless campaign is underway, calling attention to the horrendous plight of hunger and homelessness in 1986, problems that are still relevant in the present day. Peele then jumps to present day, where an adult Adelaide is traveling via car with her husband Gabe (Winston Duke), and two kids Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex) to their family beach home in Santa Cruz, California. The story picks up here and never slows down.

The movie shows the close, loving relationship of the Wilsons and relates that they enjoy all the benefits of success. The family is successful, but not overtly rich, as opposed to their Caucasian friends. The Wilsons children appear to be content enough and it is very obvious that Adelaide has kept her children pretty close to her — in stark contrast to her own parents. The Tylers and their children — the twins — in contrast are cold, sarcastic and filthy rich, as evidenced by their opulent home.

This movie clearly displays the rewards of being one of the privileged, the connected. It illustrates that riches and all its trappings do not translate to happiness. The little things, like cruising around with your loved ones enroute to the beach, are what make you rich.

Adelaide and her family are in for a wild ride, one that is an homage to horror greats of the past. The movie displays all the doom of Hitchcock, the intensity of Craven and great film-framing more reminiscent of a seasoned filmmaker. Adelaide’s panic, anxiety and attempt to understand her feelings of impending doom are comically deflected by her not-so-funny husband Gabe.

Her panic sets the tone for the chaos that ensues once the doppelgängers, the characters’ exact carbon copies, appear from outside, and invade their home and lives.

However, “Us” is not a home-invasion movie. It is a horror movie that bends the genre. Often in horror films, the protagonists have to guess terror. In “Us,” Red, Adelaide’s dopplegänger,  tells Adelaide exactly what she wants and why she wants it. Red wants Adelaide’s life — plain and simple. Adelaidehas lived a life of sunshine, with a prince of a husband and beautiful children, while Red has lived with a monster and two horrible children.

“Us” is essentially the quintessential horror film because the villains are doppelgangers, almost carbon copies of the people they terrorize. Peele makes the central characters afraid of themselves. How many of us fear what we are capable of doing?  

Peele seems to be telling us that we will never be safe as long as we refuse to see that the people we are fighting are just like us. They look, act and think like us. He illustrates this when Red is asked who “they are” and she answers, “We’re Americans.” Through themes of duality and religious references such as Jeremiah 11:11, Peele teaches and preaches that evil and wrongdoing have a reckoning.

During the final minutes of the film, Adelaide has a flashback and the audience is left shaken to their core. This twist will be talked about for months to come.

For horror fans this movie does not disappoint: There is murder and gore, but there is also comedy and social commentary. Peele’s flinching look at society’s ills should give the viewer great pause. “Us” shows what happens when people are neglectful and fail to pay attention to the important things in their lives, what happens when people “live lies” or “drink their own Kool-Aid,” by pretending to be what others perceive them to be and by forgetting that the disadvantaged and downtrodden may be plotting and scheming to avenge their circumstances and “rise up” against their oppressors, no matter the cost.

Evil is not always so cut and dry and those appearing to be “good” may be inherently evil.

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