Us, Jordan Peele’s follow-up horror film to Get Out, is a remarkably intriguing and horrifying film in its own right. When the larger social implications and allegories are considered, the film forces us to reckon with our own collective failures as self-interested individuals; our tendency to disregard the troubles of others is a symptom, perhaps, of the repression of our own individual flaws.
“True horror forces us, as audiences, to reconcile with difficult (and perhaps unexpected) truths that course beneath the veneer of normal life”
Us, therefore, is a film that embodies broad ideas of oppression and repression within a wide spectrum of social contexts, all within the milieu of a family’s getaway trip to the beach. The film’s real shock, as with great horror films, is not in the monsters it creates; true horror forces us, as audiences, to reconcile with difficult (and perhaps unexpected) truths that course beneath the veneer of normal life. True horror, as the film so disturbingly illustrates, comes from within.
“The film becomes an allegory of society’s dysfunction, a foreshadowing of self-destruction and a reflection on our carnal instincts of self-preservation and self-interest”
Jordan Peele’s highly symbolic approach which features the religious significance of Jeremiah 11:11, the imagery of rabbits (a reference to cloning) and the 1986 advertisement ‘Hands across America’ (a protest to raise awareness about hunger and homelessness in America) is fascinating. Peele weaves specific imagery together to make his own allegory about the wider society. Those who dismiss this horror film as ‘over-hyped’ and ‘surface-level’ fail to consider Us as a form of meta-art.
It isn’t so much a narrative as it is an allegory on our state of being in society. Jordan Peele’s appeal to mainstream audiences (traditional story-telling, use of certain music, comedy and dialogue) should not downplay how subversive this film can be. Whilst the story itself is intensely plot-driven, the film treads waters that reach far beyond the film itself. The film becomes an allegory of society’s dysfunction, a foreshadowing of self-destruction and a reflection on our carnal instincts of self-preservation and self-interest.
“Even the choice of opening credits to slowly fade away from a single rabbit in a cage to an entire canvas of ‘imprisoned’ rabbits highlights Peele’s diverse sensibilities as a film-maker”
With a flashy repertoire of camera movements, the film’s dynamic visual style facilitates the narrative. As characters constantly face their own doppelgangers/human doubles, the film finds interesting ways to portray character interaction and heighten our sense of tension. Even the choice of opening credits to slowly fade away from a single rabbit in a cage to an entire canvas of ‘imprisoned’ rabbits highlights Peele’s diverse sensibilities as a film-maker; he appreciates the power of being deliberate.
This range, however, causes a slight problem in the tone of the film. There are moments in the film where the dialogue feels out of place and the tone becomes disjointed as light-hearted quips from the husband, Gabe (Duke Winston) do not really fit the life-and-death immediacy of the character’s predicament. While light-heartedness has certainly been a stylistic feature of Jordan Peele’s films, it seemed a little odd during the latter moments of the film. With that being said, it does little to diminish the gravitas the film was able to create.
“Lupita Nyongo’o transfigures her characters in unpredictable and unimaginable ways that leave an indelible mark on us”
Behind this disturbingly powerful film were some of the most unsettling acting performances of the year. Lupita Nyongo’o (12 Years A Slave, Black Panther) is the lifeblood of this film. She gives the performance of the year by portraying four unique sides; the normal and the deranged in two different characters of the same coin. In the character of the mother, she portrays the insecurity when things are calm and the unyielding rage when her family is threatened.
Conversely, for the character of her clone, Nyongo’o flickers between the deranged and the vulnerable that culminates in a terrifyingly relatable performance that demands our empathy. While Winston Duke (Gabe/husband), Anna Diop and Evan Alex absolutely nailed the dual nature of their performances, Lupita Nyongo’o transfigures her characters in unpredictable and unimaginable ways that leave an indelible mark on us. Her pained movements, transfixing gazes, carnal rage and animalistic agony still leaves me reeling in a turmoil of emotion. I have a feeling that Lupita’s performance will stand the test of time as an iconic work of art.
“One scene characterizes the film perfectly. Shocked and confused, the Wilson family’s first question to their ‘doubles’ was ‘Who are you?’ and their doubles reply in the most unexpected fashion; ‘We’re Americans.’ “
Between the bloodied bodies, beaches, bunnies and biblical verses, Jordan Peele’s horror dystopia is an ambitious amalgamation of challenging ideas. One scene characterizes the film perfectly. Shocked and confused, the Wilson family’s first question to their ‘doubles’ was ‘Who are you?’ and their doubles reply in the most unexpected fashion; ‘We’re Americans.’ It is also no wonder that ‘Us’ is also an abbreviation for ‘United States’. While Peele’s wordplay and references are nifty, his intentions run deep.
Peele’s depiction of the dichotomy between man and his double is a study of the social class divide and the way in which we’re conditioned to believe that self-preservation is always a zero-sum game. The unfolding chaos when the doubles revolt is, in part, a commentary on American society’s collective avoidance of dealing with its difficult past and its consequences. In the end, Us forces us to confront the impact our social environment can have on us. Perhaps the most haunting thought is how self-preservation can be so human yet so perverse at the same time.
Jia Wei Lum
Featured Image courtesy of Universal Pictures and Monkeypaw Productions via IMDb.