By Royce J.
In the 1980’s, childhood friends Sam Reimi and Bruce Campbell brought us the Evil Dead series, effectively marrying comedy and tragedy in a horror movie the likes of which hasn’t been seen since. However, Us writer/producer/director Jordan Peele has tapped into his comedic roots to bring us a film that perfectly balances laughs and thrills. Dressed in a rare intelligence, it plumbs the depth of the human condition and leaves the audiences with plenty to chew on long after the closing credits roll.
A few years ago, Jurassic World presented us with the future of dinosaur creation: a creature with the best genetic materials from Tyrannosaurus Rex, Velociraptor, pit vipers, tree frogs and more. Similarly, Us seems to benefit from Peele’s science-like ability to assemble his own genetically modified storyline which draws on the finest parts of multiple genres: Stranger Things 80’s nostalgia, part Tyler Perry-style situational laughs, part Invasion of the Body Snatchers identity thriller, part The Matrix dystopian reality,part Cape Fear family peril, and just when you thought you were finished, part M. Night Shyamalan twist ending. No question about it, Peele has created a thrilling masterpiece that never loses touch with reality, and will transcend generations to strike at the core of our dreams, fears, and humanity.
The plot drops us in on the Wilson’s, a middle-class family on vacation in present-day California. Their strained relationships and troubled modes of communication evident and humorously relatable in all their interactions. The vacation has evoked painful emotions in their mother as she’s reminded of an unsettling encounter she had in an amusement park in Santa Monica while just a child. Deteriorating from high-strung to emotional wreck, she finally decides to confide in her mostly aloof husband—then the visitors show up. Clad in the kind of uniform coveralls that you’d see had San Quentin decided to pilot a new cherry-red color scheme for inmates, a family of doppelgängers arrive with convincing motives, and sinister intentions for the terrified Wilsons. A pair of gold scissor travel with each doppelgänger, representing the moment they intend to ultimately “separate” from their host. So which family will survive the night?
The four main actors each play duel, darkly-comedic roles in this film which explores the dualistic nature of humans through the clear and present threat of danger directed toward loved ones. They are all convincing in their own right, however, the performances of Kenyan-Mexican actress Lupita Nyong’o as Adelaide Wilson and Red are extremely memorable. On the one hand, she delivers a blend of fierce maternal love and instinct, childhood trauma, and terror. On the other, she menacingly chews through lines with a cadence and voice modulation that is as original as it is unsettling. For my money, her villain’s voice may be second only to Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight.
The opening scene, set in the 1980’s, foreshadows the impending doom through a vagrant at a carnival holding a bible verse. It reads: Jeremiah 11:11. Noticing the use of parallels and mirrors already? Paraphrased, the verse says that the Lord will bring evil upon them which they won’t be able to escape, even though they should cry out to Him.
Have we, like the bible verse indicates, chosen paths that have led us to inescapable evil in our lives by shunning spiritual outlets? Can we escape our own wickedness, defeat our own inner demons? Will tragedy and suffering inevitably corner us no matter where we hole-up? Is right and wrong completely situational? What if everything we believed in was a carefully generated fallacy, an experiment designed to test the limits of the human soul? Do we really even know who we are?
Us poses all these questions and more while still tethering our affections to a wholesome family staring down the barrel of their own destruction at the hands of outside forces. The secret to the movie’s success most likely lies in our ability to see ourselves in the Wilson’s through the window that the movie cuts out: they are us.
Through his screenplay, Peele has created an empty space for us to fill with our own interpretations of the relationship between the family and their shadows. Do we see the bourgeois and the proletariats? Aesthetic appeal vs physical repulsion? Science vs. nature? Materialism vs altruism? Race relations? Gender inequities? Political dysfunction? He has created a movie worth seeing, but more importantly, he has created questions about what it means to be human. So my question to you is, will you create time to see it?