An Unsettling And Sophisticated Horror
By Casey Lee
When ‘Get Out’ was released in 2017, it was not only a terrifying thriller of being surrounded by another, but one that also subtly carried social commentaries, which is really rare in a genre that had predominantly cared more about the scare than allegory. Oscar winnings and landmark representations aside, there were already huge expectations on Jordan Peele to live up to his debut feature. While ‘Us’ shows us that Peele is set to be one of the most revered technical masters of the horror genre in this century, it is likely that he will be pressured to add meaning to all of his horror films moving forward (which isn’t a bad thing for viewers).
After surviving a traumatizing trip at a beach side fun house as a child, Lupita Nyong’o’s Adelaide returns to that beach of Santa Cruz, now with a husband, a son and a daughter. Despite having a bubbly husband who urges her to relax, she is still haunted by the horrible memory. Adelaide's fears finally come true when a family of lookalikes, dressed in red jump suits, stands hauntingly on the driveway of their summer home. As it becomes increasingly apparent that the impostor family is out for their blood, Adelaide pulls her family through a night of survival, running away from the most dangerous threat they could face; themselves.
‘Us’, much like ‘Get Out’, works as entertainment and allegory. For the scares, Us is an effective home invasion thriller that is carefully crafted to maximize tension, heighten suspense and prolong the unsettling fear of having to run from someone who knows you all too well. There is improvement in production value as compared to ‘Get Out’, with tight camera work done by Glass’s Mike Gioulakis and cuts by editor Nicholas Monsour that follow a ‘scissor-sharp’ pacing. As for the sound, ‘Get Out’ composer Michael Abels returns to provide a disturbing score (alongside with some comedic use of licensed ones), and impeccable sound mixing effectively held the suspense. While the veteran actors in the cast take up the challenge of doing double duty, playing as their real and alternate counterparts, it is when the child actors pull their own weight as well that makes the performance impressive.
But cutting deeper into ‘Us’ is where it becomes a harder pill to swallow. Unlike the silent nods and subtle points of references and symbolism in ‘Get Out’, ‘Us’ is a rabbit hole of symbolisms. While the golden scissors, the ‘Hands Across America Campaign’ and the use of red all point to some deeper meaning in Peele's commentary, it can be lost on those who are uninformed on the cultural significance they carry. Peele doesn't provide a good explanation; he is willing to let the symbols speak for themselves and be open to interpretation. However, that may also come off as being ambiguous and non-committal to a message, unlike how Peele delivered in ‘Get Out’.
All in all, ‘Us’ is a polished presentation of horror that veers towards the bizarre with many unanswered questions. Also, it is likely to age well when its deep meanings are gradually dug up, possibly by a race of underground clones who are much smarter than us.