In theaters now!
Directed by Jordan Peele
Written by Jordan Peele
Starring Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Anna Diop, Cali Sheldon, Noelle Sheldon, Madison Curry, Ashley Mckoy, Napiera Groves, Lon Gowan, Alan Frazier, Duke Nicholson, Dustin Ybarra, Nathan Harrington, Kara Hayward
Find out more about this film here
There has been much debate as to what US means. What are its hidden themes? What does it symbolize? There are a lot of folks looking at the film and applying political, sociological, and all kinds of takes. I’ll provide a couple of my takes at the end of this review, but the simple fact that this is a film that has folks searching for meaning is a sign that Jordan Peele is doing something right. The best kinds of films are able to be interpreted in many different ways from many different philosophies. It’s this type of nuanced film that rarely appears in the world of horror—a genre that often people have to stretch to uncomfortable lengths to find deeper meaning. I’m just happy that US is a film that will cause debate, conversation, and introspection; as all good horror films should.
A seemingly normal family go to their vacation home in hopes of fun and relaxation, but soon find themselves under siege by a family that looks exactly like them but act in murderous and monstrous ways. The matriarch of the group, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) is forced to confront a deep dark secret from her past in order to combat this twisted mirror image of her family.
US is a fantastic film. It is a film with layers. It is a film with characters easy to relate to. It is a film that isn’t made for one set of people, but even more so than GET OUT, taps into primal fears that are hidden in the reptile brains of all of us. Who hasn’t recoiled in horror a bit when they see a picture or view of themselves when we weren’t expecting it? “Do I look like that?” is something that immediately crosses one’s mind as you see yourself, not through your mind’s eye, but through reality’s lens. The film is entitled US and “us” is the true terror of the film.
But who is the us US is referring to? Basically, the filmmaker has said that the film is about being our own worst enemies. At the end of the day, in a personal sense, it is the person staring at us in the mirror who is responsible for our own problems of the world. In a day and age when everyone is busy pointing the finger at someone else for being the enemy, it is refreshing to see a film that dares ask the audience to look at themselves as the blame and not heap it onto someone else. As the young Jason (Evan Alex) states at the dinner table, “When you point a finger, there are three fingers pointing back at you.”
Now I have seen critics try to get political and paint this film as a statement on “red states vs. blue states” since the “bad” guys are wearing red jumpsuits. I also have seen the film take the opposite stance and say that the “tethered” (which is the name of the doppelgangers who torment those who live above ground) represent third world countries and the poor that are looked past and over by America itself. I think people have every right to look at it this way, but I don’t think that was Peele’s true intention and in labeling this an us against them scenario, Peele once again proves his point. Simply making this into a us v. Trump’s America scenario is extremely short sighted will almost immediately make this film feel dated in a year or two. Peele’s vision is much deeper than that and touches on much more universal themes than modern political leanings. The film is not about the “tethered” being the bad guys, but about us being the ones who need to take a step back and look at the true horror, ourselves. While GET OUT was definitely a film about race, I think US is taking on a much broader scope on the human condition rather than simply boiling it down to another finger pointing session. It’s a brave stance to take in this age, as despite the horrific events of this movie, people are much more likely to lash out at others than take a breath and look at the horror we are inflicting. I couldn’t get this concept out of my mind as I watched this film and especially after the reveal at the end, it was evident that this is what Peele had to say.
Of course, I could be wrong. It is, after all, my own opinion.
Looking at the film simply from a technical standpoint, US is a phenomenally crafted movie. There is so much to say about the expert use of lights and darks, the fantastic staging of scenes, the way everything in the story has its purpose that will be integral to the plot later. This is a film that has no fat to be trimmed. No scenes that are irrelevant. No material necessary to make a lean movie. Jordan Peele proves that he can make a technically sound film, entertaining from beginning to end—from the use of music and sound to the careful unfolding of the plot that doesn’t show all of its cards until the last moments. Who knew the guy who coined the term “Noice!” and “Liam Neesons” would prove himself to be one of the best mainstream horror filmmakers out there today?
The cast is phenomenal as well. No cast member is not carrying his or her weight. Lupita Nyong’o is a badass who is comfortable alongside the likes of horror heroines Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hamilton. As the film progresses, she conveys a range of emotions that few actresses can achieve. One of my favorite characters from BLACK PANTHER Winston Duke, is instantly likable as Gabe. He provides a lot of comic relief, but also serves the purpose of playing against part with the large statured actor sitting back and letting his wife doing the heavy work. It was refreshing to see him be a goofy dad, but still maintaining his love for his family and not being painted as ineffectual or cowardly. And the kids, who usually are the weak link in film’s chain, are both strong in their own dual roles. Both not feeling like they are reading lines written by an adult or acting like adults in kids’ bodies. Their joy, pain, and fear are authentic. Finally, in smaller roles, it was great to see actress Elisabeth Moss act like a lunatic and TIM & ERIC’s Tim Heidecker’s role had me rolling with his heinous tattoos and reluctance to leave his comfy lazy-chair to investigate the sounds outside. Across the board, this is a fantastically acted film.
If there is a fault in US, I would say that Peele plays things a little too subtle for his own good. There are a lot of moments that happen and don’t pay off until much later. There are even more that feel like he is playing fast and loose with the rules he has set up, but by the time the final credits roll, it all makes perfect sense. Does this film rely a lot on fun little coincidences, like an engine that responds to being smacked the right way or a lighter that only works at the one necessary time? Yes, but I am willing to forgive that because of the stellar film wrapped around it. Some are calling US the best horror film ever and while I wouldn’t say that (as it is nowhere near as good as THE THING, THE EXORCIST, JAWS, ALIEN, or even THE SHINING), I will say it is one of the best horror films of the year and certainly one of the most effective and thought provoking horror films since THE VVITCH.
US seems to be asking a bold question that I don’t know if our society is really capable or ready to answer right now, but that type of self-reflection is exactly what great art is supposed to promote. I could write ten more pages of review for US and maybe one day I will. But I’ll wrap things up with just saying Jordan Peele hits all of the right notes here. The funny bits are actually funny. The scary moments are amazingly paced and never reliant on jump scares, only relying on what is truly dangerous and frightening. It’s this genuine level of storytelling that is lacking in today’s filmmaking community and I’m so happy for Peele’s love of the genre so we can expect so much more horrors from him to come. It’s this type of brave and skillful storytelling that the horror genre needs.