Following up on the 2016 hit, Get Out, director and writer Jordan Peele does not suffer from a sophomore slump with his latest horrifying, psychological thriller, Us. Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions and Blumhouse have teamed up with Universal Pictures to deliver another entry into the doppelgänger subgenre of horror. Us stars Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, and Evan Alex as an African-American family who has been confronted by a group of doppelgängers known as the Tethers.
Technically, It Doesn’t Peele Anything Back
After Get Out and Us, it’s safe to say that director and writer Jordan Peele is the new face of horror for the 2010s and beyond. Peele has a knack for building suspense in his films and does a perfect job of framing each scene in unique ways. He uses small details for foreshadowing and in turn it adds to the film’s narrative. There’s a scene early on where the Wilson family is walking on the beach and Peele uses a bird’s-eye shot to focus on the family’s shadows as they walk by. This is a sly way of introducing the idea of the doppelgänger that is shadowing the family. When the big reveal happens later on in the film, the image below may possibly have a different meaning.Peele knows how to effortlessly blend horror with comedy to balance out the suspense and the thrill. The scene where the Tethers are introduced is a good example of how he fuses comic relief while something terrifying is happening, while not allowing it to distract from the tone of the film. In the clip below, Gabe Wilson (Winston Duke) confronts the family of Tethers, who is outside of his family’s beach house, and Peele’s writing shows that this is a suspenseful moment, yet there is plenty of humor in Wilson’s dialogue that fits the composition of the scene.
While there is a lot to praise about the film’s writing, there are some storytelling elements that the film could’ve done a better job with. The opening 5 minutes before the opening credits should have been woven throughout the film’s narrative or left on the cutting room floor. The issue with this part of the movie is that it takes the surprise from the big reveal that happens during the third act. As a screenwriter, since Peele kept that part of the film, then the narrative of the film should’ve changed since the audience already knows the motivation of Red/Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o). If he changes the film’s narrative then he doesn’t have to cram an explanation as to why Red is doing what she’s doing and the film won’t have as many loose ends at the end of the film.
Speaking of the confrontation between Red and Adelaide, Michael Abels returns with a perfect score. Abels provided the score for Jordan Peele’s critically acclaimed directorial debut, Get Out, and he brought his A-game to Us. The composition of the sounds that he uses creates a suspenseful environment that sonically adds an additional layer of depth to the film. During the big climax the film uses the version of “I Got 5 On It” that was in the trailer and it works perfectly. Luniz would be proud.
Adelaide From A Wonderland
Performance wise, the cast of Us deliver performances that will be etched in history when it comes to actors acting in dual roles. The Tethers are sinister versions of the main characters and everyone, from the adults to the kids, knows how to convey the proper emotion from their characters without it looking cringeworthy. Lupita’s performances as Adelaide and Red will be talked about for years and should see her get an Oscar nomination. In an interview with Variety, Lupita stated that Peele shot her scenes as Red and Adelaide on different days, and that she would stay in character when the cameras were off. This type of commitment to her character manifests itself throughout the scenes when both characters are paired in the same scene. Lupita also has an expressive face, so she does not have to say a single word because her expressions do the talking for her.Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke weren’t the only members of the Wilson family that brought out the best in their characters, it was a family affair because their
spawns children were just as formidable. Zora Wilson/Umbrae (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason Wilson/Pluto (Evan Alex) are half the size and twice as gruesome as their parents. Pluto and Umbrae are relentless, there are points in the film where Umbrae attacks people that aren’t even related to her human counterpart. Meanwhile, Pluto is a demon child who wants to watch the world burn through Hell, fire and brimstone. Evan Alex’s performance is what sells the events at the end of the film because he has to portray complete fear as Jason and that can be hard to do for such a young actor.
Down The Rabbit Hole (Spoilers Below)
Us would not be a horror from the mind of Jordan Peele if it wasn’t filled with any sort of symbolism or easter eggs that convey a deeper meaning. Back in 2018, Peele tweeted out a rorschach poster that explains the film’s duality. In the film, 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.'” — which is similar to an expression by another Rorschach.
The duality of the number 11 is more than likely why that verse was chosen in the film. One creature that is shown throughout the film are rabbits. There are rabbits before the opening credits, there are stuffed rabbits, rabbits in the underground tunnel. The fact that there is a tunnel underground where the Tethers live is what makes the rabbit hole theme so prevalent. Scissors are the weapon of choice and Peele has stated that scissors represent the idea of being bound together (the Tether and the human) yet a scissors function is to tear things apart (the Tethers kill the humans). Also, scissors look like rabbit ears, which adds another element to them being chosen as the weapon in the film.
Zora, a track runner, is pictured with a rabbit on her shirt as she spends the first act of the film outrunning her tether. If this was folklore then the hare would defeat the tortoise in this race. The image above also shows Adelaide Wilson in a white shirt. Everyone knows that the color white is used to represent purity yet by the time the film finishes that shirt is stained crimson from all of the blood. By the end of the film, Adelaide is Red, both figuratively and literally. The big revelation at the end of the film is that the Adelaide that we’ve been watching this whole time is really a tether and the tethered is actually the real Adelaide. Adelaide is the only character who has a tethered that is named after a color, and Peele does an inconspicuous job at showing the transition within the film’s larger story.Jason is the character in the film that was used for the most nods and easter eggs to other horror movies. He is a character that is always pictured in a mask as if he was a certain slasher that comes out to play every Friday the 13th. During the film, Jason is also the only human that is able to make his tether mimic his actions. The film never really explains why, nor why it only works some of the time. The only thing that I can think of is because he and his tether are both a human-tether hybrid, which means they share half of a soul since Red stated that the tether were like humans but without the soul. This may also be the reason why at the beach (picture #1) the shadows of Jason and Zora (tether-human hybrids) are pictured at the same peak as Adelaide (full tether) yet their father’s (full human) is substantially larger.Jason is also wearing a Jaws shirt which is a nod to the Steven Spielberg classic. Jaws exploit the fear of the deep blue sea whereas Us shows the fear of ourselves. Like the shark that attacked in Jaws, the Tethered in Us also came out from beyond the deep, except these horrifying creatures crawled up from unused tunnels.
Although not a perfect movie and not as great as Jordan Peele’s previous film, Us, overall, is a stellar outing for the sophomore director. The acting was flawless all around and Lupita Nyong’o has the best performance of any actor so far in 2019. Winston Duke shines in every scene that he’s in, Evan Alex and Shahadi Wright Joseph were some of the best child actors in a horror movie since the cast of 2017’s It. Peele’s work behind the camera is just as good as ever and he knows how to capture the suspenseful moments. The writing could’ve been better and more consistent. One second the tethers seemed to have some sense of enhanced speed or strength and other times they seemed like normal humans. Overall, 2019 has been a rough year in film so far, but Peele delivered a proper follow-up to his 2017 hit. If you haven’t seen this one on the big screen then check it out when you get a chance.
[All Mames Wey]
Us was released in theaters on March 22, 2019.