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« Would you rather? | Main | Beauty vs Beast: Liverpool Lovers »
Monday
Mar112019

SXSW: Jordan Peele has another winner with "Us"

Guest contributor Tony Ruggio reporting from SXSW

Between the ages of thirteen and twenty-five years-old I witnessed what they would call the 11:11 “phenomenon.” Essentially, I saw a three or four-number combination of 1 in all walks of life. I saw it on television, often the last four of a Crash Bandicoot lawyer’s telephone number. I saw it during lunch time, the split-second moment a microwave hit that magic number. Most of all, I saw it on a clock, at least once a day every day. The paranoid and pretty rad among us consider this phenomenon many things: good luck, a sign from God, a glitch in the Matrix, a pang of the end times, or even a calling to those chosen to effect change and save the world from itself. Jordan Peele must have been a “witness” himself or simply heard about it and did his research, because Us is littered with references to this numeral phenomenon and the conspiracy theories that have sprung of it. More traditional horror than Get Out, and a better film too, Us gets hung up on making a big statement, but ends up making a great horror film regardless.

This might be sacrilegious to those already devoted to Peele: Get Out is a good film, one whose merits lay more in writing than in directing. Silly folks label it a thriller, denying it “horror” status. Even if you grant that Get Out was not a horror film in concept, it's definitely a horror film in execution. Therefore, I knocked it at the time for not being scary enough. With Us, Peele is firing on all scary-movie cylinders, and doing so with a wider array of tools at his disposal, chief of all his confidence...

In the span of just two films he’s grown leaps and bounds as a filmmaker, doubling down on that shrewd, cunning humor and expanding on his penchant for wicked iconography. If there’s one thing every future horror classic needs, it’s iconography. Indelible, iconic images are nearly as important as everything else. But oh, what everything else. Gabe (Winston Duke) and Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) and their two children make up your average middle-class American family.

Duke is on a rocket ship to the stars and Nyong’o is officially one of the finest actresses of her generation. Her dual performances as two mama bears possessed are surefire proof that the Oscar was no fluke. On vacation with their affluent white buddies the Tylers (Elizabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker, nearly stealing the picture) and their teenage daughters, it would almost be your typical hunky-dory set-up before the shit hits the fan …were it not for Nyong’o’s Adelaide. Since arriving she’s been reliving a childhood incident that traumatized her, and whether exploring that trauma or recollecting and subverting Reagan-era iconography (there it is again), it’s clear Peele is asking us to remember America’s sins.

Us is not about race. Us is about all of us. While the message is somewhat obvious and couched in a ridiculous ending, the end point of it all doesn’t matter so much as how he gets there, the yarn of it all. Peele is delving into America’s contradictions and duality as a country, the great binary, our capacity to be good whilst ignoring and fearing the other, from the poor and underprivileged to those foreign to us. And he’s somehow doing it while throwing everything and the kitchen sink at us, including bunnies. Universal’s marketing team has done an excellent job crafting exciting trailers without spoiling the film’s secrets or much of its plot, so I can’t go into much detail less I give up the ghost on just what is happening when the Wilson family doppelgangers show up with scissors and a kill-on for their “tethered.” Suffice to say, they’re not happy with how they’ve been treated and they’re here to change the world. When do they show up, Us kicks into high gear, containing more than a handful of moments designed for audience participation, the kind of stand-up-and-cheer stuff built for horror audiences. This is particularly the case when the action moves to the Tyler family beach house, a twenty-minute sequence of shocking images, serious comedy, and killer tunes. From pillar to post the Tyler house battle between “good” and “evil” is a filmmaking tour de force.

 But what about 11:11? Is it a red herring or an integral part of the yarn, something to parse? So goes the phenomenon itself, and world I suppose. Once Peele’s ambitious, apocalyptic vision comes to fruition, the numeric symbol takes on a special meaning to those of us who have entertained or at least read about the dozens of theories associated with it. It’s kinda cool knowing the next great filmmaker was inspired by something that creeped you the hell out for so many years, as it did me. From Haneke to Serling, the inspirations are many, and through it all the former comedian has produced an inarguable horror film of great conviction and originality. It’s all so fresh in spite of any borrowing. Though his message is clear as day, his tactics are dark as night, with so much to unpack scene to scene in terms of theme, metaphor, and a thoroughly unsettling fiction of American history. Us is not overtly political, and yet walking out I couldn’t help thinking about our country’s two halves, and our unending ability to blame the other half for all the evil in the world. It’s not them, it’s all of us.  A-

Us opens nationwide on Friday, March 22nd.

 

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Reader Comments (13)

Who knew Lupita could be so interestingafter her Oscar win I was dreading more Patsy's.

March 11, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

" Get Out" was one of the best written and directed thrillers of recent years and I can't wait for what ever Peele has cooked up this time

March 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

Every review I've skimmed (because I don't want to go in knowing to much or having too many expectations) says that Lupita is doing some next-level shit with her performance, and if that's the case, I hope everyone remembers that come awards season.

March 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

So happy for Lupita to get her first real chance to show that Oscar wasn’t a fluke and that she can carry a movie (twice over, in fact). But if you think about it, Patsy is a feat of vocal and physical ingenuity that didn’t get the credit it deserved back then or now. Couple that with her unrecognizable voice work in Star Wars and it’s clear that she learned tons from the Yale School of Drama.

March 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMJ

I am totally in for this one!!!

March 11, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterrdf

“...is doing some next-level shit with her performance...I hope everyone remembers that come awards season.” Toni Collette is here to remind you that that may be a pipe dream, sadly.

Can’t wait to see this!

March 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

I can't to see this film! But I'm skipping this I'm-sure-stellar review as I want to go in as cold as possible (I'm assuming the trailer leaves a ton of plot points out).

March 12, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRob

Mareko, all it will take to keep her name in the conversation is for the film to be a commercial hit, which seems highly likely, though I'll admit that being a dark-skinned black actress headlining a genre flick is a tall hill to climb to best actress.

March 12, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

A24 and Collette didn't campaign last year. Us is a Blumhouse/Universal film like Get Out, which had a great Oscar campaign, and Lupita seems to enjoy doing public events.

March 12, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

This already seems a solid, extremely solid contender for Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Original Screenplay, Film Editing...

March 12, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJesus Alonso

As much as I hope Lupita could be nominated. I’m doubtful as this appears to be more horror than Get Out. If Toni couldn’t , not sure if Lupita can .

March 13, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterNikki

Really excited for this - particularly Lupita. Even though I was maybe the only person who found Get Out really meh and obvious, apart from Kaluuya and Keener.

March 13, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterLuke

Luke, this movie is more meh than Get Out. Don’t get your hopes up.

March 24, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPedro

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