Tue, 02 Apr 2019
Running time 1hr 56min
JORDAN Peele never fails to surprise us. An erstwhile comic, he made his directorial debut in 2017 with Get Out, already a
milestone of the horror genre; fusing visceral violence with an equally scathing commentary on the American condition, it was a film that insisted upon the social relevance of cinema in an age of blockbuster nihilism. Us, its spiritual successor, lacks little in the ideas department; it reveals Peele as a filmmaker who dwells in the crevasses of an ailing society, conjuring enthralling poetry out of everyday reality.
This is a breathtakingly intelligent movie, a thematic lasagne of psychological torment, paranoid hijinks and – as in Get Out – racial inequity, but it’s perhaps a little too ambitious for its own good, occasionally biting off far more than it can chew. Yet Peele is nothing if not dependable, and he surrounds himself with dependable people – when Us falls down, it’s helped to its feet again by a series of stellar performances, and by its demented, almost Cronenbergian atmosphere.
Given that its plot is only half the story, Us will no doubt reward repeat viewings – as in the best horror flicks, no visual touch is incidental, and no frame is without meaning. The sublime Lupita Nyong’o is Adelaide, a young woman reeling from a mysterious childhood trauma. Rabbits are a recurring motif here – fittingly enough, for Nyong’o plays the lead as a rabbit caught in America’s headlights, unable to maintain a veneer of black middle-class respectability as she grapples with her personal demons. Adelaide embarks upon a beach retreat with her two children (played splendidly by Evan Alex and Shahadi Wright Joseph) and happy-go-lucky husband (Winston Duke); within hours, however, the vacation has descended into blood-curdling anarchy, as a quartet of doppelgängers show up to wreak havoc.
Much of Us treads the same ground as Get Out, which is not to dismiss it as a simple companion piece – the screenplay’s genius is in saying a lot while actually saying very little. It depicts a society where racial
injustice is not actively confronted, but pushed to the foreground, decked out in pop-culture Day-Glo and token, hypocritical gestures of remorse (over the course of two decades, the ghastly funhouse in which Adelaide experiences her initial ordeal is transformed from an Amerindian pastiche into an innocuous ‘magical forest’). All the while, horrors writhe and bubble just beneath the surface – the doppelgängers, unkempt and clad in red prison jumpsuits, embody the American precariat, a white vision of blackness that Adelaide and her family must, by merit of their mere existence, contend with every day.
The film functions as both a disquietingly subtle allegory and, with all its caustic implications, a profoundly subversive one; the subtext is much less in-yer-face than it was in Peele’s last project, yet it feels a whole lot more all-encompassing in its scope. Get Out’s original ending (which now exists as a YouTube curio – if you’ve already seen the film, look it up) was decidedly bleaker and moreincendiary than the one which made the final cut; as if to address fan grievances, Us is essentially a full-length movie in the vein of that ending, a bloody, epic and deeply pessimistic ‘state of the nation’ autopsy. It flits relentlessly between genres (from home invasion horror and family comedy to post-apocalyptic and conspiracy thriller), settling for little along the way; yet the core ensemble is consistently spirited, delivering effortless, highly sensuous performances.