MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Who can forget writer-director Jordan Peele’s 2017 satirical horror film Get Out? Its contemporary revisioning of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? garnered multiple awards and much controversial conversation. It announced the debut of an important filmmaker.
Peele has been vocal about his love of horror films and his desire to keep making new ones. His second feature Us is no sophomore slump. If anything, this film shows even more talent on display, with visual flair, dazzling cinematography, a sense of humor that runs the gamut from dark comedy to Dad jokes, and a wonderfully talented cast, buoyed by Lupita Nyong’o’s central role as Adelaide Wilson, mother to a family of four who find themselves suddenly terrorized during a getaway weekend by another family of four who appear in the middle of the night armed with weapons and prepared for a fight. The intruders are doppelgangers, mirror doubles, representatives from a parallel world as well as Adelaide’s past.
Us begins with a prelude set at a beachside amusement park in 1986 (what is it about the 80s, anyway?) and plot twists that include a lost girl, a hall of mirrors, and a stranger holding up a sign that reads 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.”)
Then the opening credits roll, showcasing rabbit cages and an ominous chorus singing something that sounds like Latin. Then it’s time for the weekend retreat and subsequent mayhem.
Us is disturbing and unsettling, but whatever it was attempting to do specifically is beyond my ken. Peele is such a lover of movies he has buried this one in dozens of film references (primarily from the 70s and 80s) including (but not limited to) The Shining, Jaws, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, C.H.U.D., Night of the Living Dead, Michael Jackson’s Thriller (the video), and The Lady from Shanghai. And there’s even a squabbling couple (friends of the Wilsons) who are a variation on George and Martha from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. All of the film references get in the way of the central story, as the in-jokes trip over one another during the film’s run time.
This may be intentional, since by film’s end it becomes clear that there is no strong logic holding the narrative together. Because Get Out was so provocative, reviewers are working overtime to uncover the deeper messages of Us (from referencing Walt Kelly’s Pogo quote “We have met the enemy and they is us” to reading “Us” as “U.S.” and commenting on everything from the class system to immigration) The shadow self is a familiar myth that has been around for thousands of years, so the sky’s the limit, folks! But every one of the horror films that Peele cites was also doing more than scaring its audiences. Popular culture is like that.
Since I enjoy horror films (the minority report in my family of four), I was entertained enough. But I can’t say that I was particularly scared, shocked or unsettled. Us wants to be another home run for Peele. While some have acclaimed it as such, in my humble opinion, this one hit the post and bounced into foul territory. Sure, I want to see what this batter is going to do the next time out – he’s a strong hitter – but I call ‘em like I see ‘em.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Three halos: There may be some thoughtful political commentary in the midst of this sensational horror/comedy, if you are looking to find it.
One pitchfork: Pervasive swearing; much extreme violence, including murders.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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