I gave Get Out, Jordan Peele’s freshman effort a B+ and all my movie buff friends freaked out. There is no doubt Get Out should be considered one of the greatest movies of all time, but I knew that it wasn’t perfect I feel vindicated by my rating and initial analysis of Get Out by watching Us. Us is far and away the superior movie and belongs in the pantheon of immaculate horror movies that are not only scary and timely but perfectly executed to make your mind run down deeper, darker catacombs of your own worst-case scenarios. Us in a word is a masterpiece. Jordan Peele is a genius and his first two movies should be considered missing entries in the Hitchcock catalogue. The scariest thing about Us isn’t the suspense or the tension that Peele manages to build into every ounce of the film, but the infinitesimal detail conjured by the brain of one man. To haunt us (see what I did there?) in this way by using realistic detail of everyday life to gift wrap your worst nightmares in a bow and hand them to you and walk away laughing knowing that the temptation to Schrodinger said present is too great to pass up only to find out you Pandora’d yourself into a place that was completely avoidable. “If only I didn’t look in that box?!?” your mind says. Sorry Brad Pitt, (congrats, in this analogy you get to be Brad Pitt!) its too late, your mind is forever ruined by Jordan Peele’s wonderful world of fucked uppery.
Us starts with the best possible starting point of any horror film, the 80s. Just put Ronald Reagan on a screen for two hours straight and as far as horror goes, you will get a round of applause from me. While transported to this decade we see a little girl at a carnival with her parents. This is the worst possible scenario for any parent because crowded places with your children is already a nightmare scenario. For most parents the stress of your child walking off while you aren’t looking weighs heavy. This detail is important because it plays to the overlooked strength of Peele’s storytelling. Peele’s patience in setting up this movie is perfection. Where a less seasoned (the fact this is only his second horror film is not lost on me) filmmaker would go for an early jump scare in this sequence. Peele chooses the slow burn and builds the scene to an obvious crescendo that never occurs. It is movie genius to do this because he harkens back to this moment multiple times in the movie to give you the necessary information to be scared while suspended in belief as the story unravels itself. Rather than give you any more scares or fright he cuts to a well-lit serene car ride where we meet our family of players and get to know them as we know we are in for a ride of shock with them over the next 2 hours. What a ride this turns out to be.
Peele manages to drop Easter egg after Easter egg to give you a chance to get ahead of his script. Not because he’s a hack or a lazy screen writer, but because he is showing you how much of a master he is at his craft. And what a master he is! I will write this again, WHAT A MASTER HE IS! Throughout the entire film he plays with you begging, almost goading you to try and guess where he is going and as he goes, he forces your mind to react in ways you didn’t think were possible in modern day story telling. No lie, I figured out what he was doing and where his script was going (he dropped a simple hint at the dinner table scene), and I was still highly impressed and entertained. Mind you, I didn’t get ahead of the script because I am smart, I got ahead of the script because Jordan Peele is. Great filmmakers are tricky in that way, Peele is so smart he forces his audience to watch his film through a highly critical lens. He is such a great filmmaker that when you watch his work there are two movies going on simultaneously. Every frame is of so much importance that movie nerds can look for a higher or deeper meaning to the portrait he is handing you, but people who aren’t interested in viewing his work in such a critical lens can enjoy his it as well. Only a select few filmmakers can do this. Hitchcock, Spielberg, Scorsese, Tarantino, Nolan and Fincher to name a few. I get this is high praise, but Peele deserves it. It will be hard to live up to his first two creations, but he is highly capable. Peele will have Hollywood at his fingertips, I imagine his next conversation with his agent going like this. He will now be breathing rarefied air. He will only be in competition with himself and other masters of the filmmaking craft in other genres. This can be a difficult minefield to navigate but Jordan Peele has shown he has the capability and the skill to do so.
Ok, I could discuss the plot and gush on Jordan Peele all day, but if you are reading this review you have seen the movie, so let’s focus on the Easter eggs and plot theories. The important thing is to discuss the deeper meaning and story within the story of Us. I think the movie above all things is a political allegory that showcases how interconnected we are as Americans. Regardless of class, party affiliation or race, this country (all of mankind if I am honest) is only separated by tiny slivers of differences that make the world great. If variety is the spice of life, America is failing to season the salad. This is showcased by Peele’s deliberate showcasing of bible verse Jeremiah 11:11: “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.” What Jordan is saying (not literally but abstractly) is that we are wasting the opportunities we have, we have a chance to be great and we are riding around in shitty boats worrying about keeping the caste system in America intact when we don’t need to worry about what our neighbors have and focus on helping one other. This is a powerful approach to make a social commentary on the status of things in this country, but its more impactful by the supporting evidence Peele swings into the narrative of the story. The tethers are the underworld version of ourselves, but they have had it far worse than we do. When Red (the tether of Adelaide) comes to the surface she speaks of how bad the tethers have it in comparison to the Wilsons. This is true. The tethers see the chances the Wilsons have and want that life, it’s only natural there is a revolution as a result. I’m hoping wealthy people watch this movie, but let’s be honest they won’t they are to busy funding elections or having champagne brunches or shopping on James' list, or whatever the fuck rich people do. The privileged in this country treat everyone else like shit and they are the first to complain when things don’t go their way. Peele using them as pigs to a slaughter is a biting criticism of this fact and one that should be at the fore front of discussion.
It could be argued that Us is an allegory for slavery, thinking strongly on the same merits discussed on the topics above, the idea black people’s ancestors would be angry at us (see what I did there?) if they could have an honest conversation from across the space time continuum because if I can be honest, there might-possibly-could-be a contingent of black people that are “wasting” (which wouldn’t be entirely their fault, because let’s face it racism is real) their opportunities to move the needle of accomplishment forward for black people in this country. There are points in this film to support this theory, for example, tether is a synonym for chains. The tethers are considered lesser than and survive off far worse and couldn’t imagine having the buffet of opportunity and privilege that the above ground people do. The idea that we are “ruining” our chances at a better life while the shadows of our ancestors’ hard work hangs over us isn’t hard to imagine.
Another key thread in this movie is the “strong black woman” fallacy. To be clear, this isn’t to say there aren’t strong black women, in all honesty I find the entire phrase to be redundant. Black and woman are both synonyms for strong. The issue is that ‘we’ (all of America) constantly leave the weight of righteousness to fall on black women’s shoulders. Black women raise their own kids, they raised other people’s kids (respect to the Latina women doing the same thing in the modern USA as well) and do so while being more at risk of danger and getting paid less money than their white counterparts for the same work. Black women run shit, Beyonce should have said, “who runs the world, black women!” But I get it . . .sell those records, Queen B! Black women are a friend to all and have nothing to show for it. It’s not right, because they are the backbone of this country. They are the creators and influencers that are raped, stolen from, abused and left for dead. Marginalized by a misogynist racist super structure that steals their identity and vilifies their offspring it at the same time.
Another indictment that is strongly levered by Peele is that black men are lost. This is evidenced by him putting the words “you are no longer making the decisions” in the mouth of his female lead while talking to her husband who has constantly made poor decision after poor decision in the film. This fact aided by the ‘keeping up with the joneses’ mentality of her black husband to keep up with their white friends’ possessional advances carries the notion that black men have their priorities off kilter and are playing a losing game that white people have tempted them into playing for far too long. Again Peele is brilliant here for pointing out that racism exists so the infrastructure cannot be beaten by a black person trying to do it the way white people do it. While it hurts to admit this, Peele isn’t wrong here either, black men have been the bastions of black society since slavery ended and we haven’t held up our end of the bargain. Sadly, like all things previous, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that racism exists, so while black people’s place in society isn’t all black men’s fault, we must take the charge that Peele has levied against us. We aren’t propping up our communities the way that black women are and there’s no excuse for this. We are in a society dominated by men and we should be getting more out of the black male collective than we currently are. This is a complex problem that will require nuanced solutions, but the conversations need to be amplified about black men can start owning a greater share of the responsibility in black America.
A couple small things in the movie I noticed. The art showcasing the strong black woman pose on the walls of the Wilson’s summer home. Strong foreshadowing for a character portrayed excellently by Lupita Nyong’o. The fact that Gabe wanted to stay in their white friends’ home because they had all the creature comforts that they needed, even though they weren’t safe there. Perhaps symbolic of the black male’s complacency in the existence of white supremacy. There was an interesting lack of shots taken at white men in Us. This is interesting because it is a statement in itself, it’s not always about you white males there can be a great movie that exists outside of you.
I liken the ending of Us to Old Boy. . .once you see it no matter who, what or where you are. You will never be the same.
Obligatory movie rating: A+