Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker. Directed by Jordan Peele.
Large parts of America are racist, this much is known, and much of Hollywood is also racist. Despite big leaps forward, there will always be anti-progress voices within the industry (Hello James Woods), but more importantly, even the Oscars are racist. This is why Get Out was considered a controversial Oscar nominee.
At the time, one anonymous Oscar voter told The Hollywood Reporter that the film’s Oscar campaign turned them off: “[W]hat bothered me…was that instead of focusing on the fact that this was an entertaining little horror movie that made quite a bit of money, they started trying to suggest it had deeper meaning than it does, and, as far as I’m concerned, they played the race card, and that really turned me off. In fact, at one of the luncheons, the lead actor [Daniel Kaluuya], who is not from the United States [he’s British], was giving us a lecture on racism in America and how black lives matter, and I thought, ‘What does this have to do with Get Out? They’re trying to make me think that if I don’t vote for this movie, I’m a racist.’ I was really offended. That sealed it for me.”
Despite this, and the insistence by dumb-dumb critic Armond White that the film was anti-white and racist, Get Out was a box office success and gave Jordan Peele an academy award for best original screenplay. Two years on, having produced last years Spike Lee joint BlacKkKlansman, as well as joining the Toy Story cast and adding his person to The Twilight Zone and acquiring the rights to the Candyman franchise, he has also been working away as writer, producer and director of his next social inflected horror film.
Us follows African American family the Wilsons, the matriarch Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) has not been back to the Santa Cruz beach since a traumatic birthday some thirty odd years ago, along with her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and their children Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex) they unite with their white friends Kitty and Josh Tyler (Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker), when one night at their beach house a group of people who look exactly like them show up, and refuse to leave.
Jordan Peele is an intelligent man, his comedy with Keegan Michael-Key in Key and Peele was always tinged with social commentary – even at it’s broadest it was saying something about being people of colour in the world, and Get Out was no different, looking at white liberal America.
Us is a little more enigmatic, not playing its hand very easily, leaving things to be discovered over the course of the film. Peele writes a film that has less of the humour of Get Out – a film which he was concerned people saw as a comedy – and goes for psychological horror. That’s not to say things don’t go bump in the night, or that there isn’t scary things that make you scream, there is but Peele is going for a slow burn, a film that will linger long after the credits roll.
His writing is sharp as ever, in his central family he plays with the usual constructs of horror films – the large, masculine father, the worried mother, the moody teenage girl, the introverted son – but manages to turn them into fully formed characters. He gets us to care about them all before the horror unfolds, and while again he delves into childhood trauma affected the present day (there are parallels between Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris Washington and Wyong’o’s Adelaide in their childhoods).
The scenes that linger aren’t the flashes of violence, though they leave their scars on your memories, it’s images that Peele and his cinematographer Mike Gioulakis put together, close ups on things like smiles, tears, a laugh. Again, images and motifs are placed at the beginning to come into play at the end, Peele has a Kurbrickian eye for detail and he wears his inspirations proudly (a clear one is the son Jason wears a Jaws t-shirt to the beach).
Nyong’o and Duke hold the film easily, having chemistry they clearly got from Black Panther (making them the second and third BP alumni to be in a Jordan Peele film – he clearly wants in on Black Panther 2). Duke plays a dopey dad who makes terrible jokes and more importantly wants to protect his family. He’s eloquent, educated but also aware of his own size and stature, while Nyong’o holds the film as the lead, navigating her dual role with ease.
Even the score by Michael Abels aids in this, and the use of music much like in Get Out is well placed. The recurring musical motif of ‘I Got 5 On It’ by the duo Luniz becomes a haunting motif, once referred to at the beginning as a “dope” song, it becomes something that bridges the horror from past and present.
What the final shot means to you will vary, but Peele – who never reveals his hand too early – is clearly full of ideas, and it’s a film to wait to hear theories and interpretations on for years. If you can stomach the tension, and go with its insanity on later on, then this might just be the film for you. What’s clear is that Peele has navigated the difficult second album that has stumped many others with brilliant debuts, and it bodes well for someone saying he intends to keep making socially conscious films. Best movie of the year so far? No doubt.
The irony is, for a film about doubles, there’s not a movie like it.