Jordan Peele has proven that he has the chops to produce, act, and front a major motion picture. In 2016, which seems like ages ago now, I went to the theater and saw the comedy Keanu, which he starred in, wrote, and co-produced. To this day it is still one of the funniest, underrated comedies in recent history. A year later he put out what many consider to be a modern horror classic and magnum opus, Get Out. I was skeptical of all the hype until I saw it as an in-flight movie. I understood the hype. Peele managed to create a film that both entertained and educated. Educated the public about what I’m sure there’s a better phrasing for, but I am going to say as ‘racial ignorance’. If you haven’t seen the movie *spoiler alert* the family in the movie tries to ‘be black’ and tries to get Kaluuya’s brain so he can see the world in his eyes. What an interesting idea for a movie! I didn’t think the movie was perfect, but it was very entertaining and original. Everyone I knew had seen this movie and very few disliked it. So you can imagine the excitement my friends and I had when the trailer for Us came out.
The trailer for Us gave off a terrifying, slasher movie vibe promoting the golden scissors the villains use in the film as murder weapons. A Jordan Peele slasher film? Sounds awesome. When the day finally came for Us to come out though, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Not only is Us better than Get Out, I think it is a perfect movie. The whole time I was watching Us I kept thinking “Woah this is really Hitchcock”. There are so many layers to this film that it almost demands a second or even third viewing. The setup is simple, a family all goes to the beach for a vacation where the mom (played by Lupita Nyong’o) used to go as a kid. However, when she was a child she had a very traumatic experience that left her scared of ever returning to the beach. Everything seems normal until one night a group of doppelgangers clad in maroon jumpsuits and bearing golden scissors comes to their vacation home at night.
Simple, right? WRONG. This film is different and eerie from the start. This is mainly credited to the amazing set design and performances from the kid actors. The boardwalk at night just terrifies and is grim from the start. Even teasing the situation is a Michael Jackson Thriller shirt that is won at the boardwalk. Nyong’o’s character ventures underneath the boardwalk to an unattended, house of mirrors like maze. There she walks down the dark, narrow hallways and eventually runs into a clone of herself where the last thing you see and hear is the child actors wide, shocked expression in utter silence. Then it cuts to the main plot. That is all you are given.
The best mystery and horror films lead with a question. Films like Poltergeist, the first Insidious, and Rosemary’s Baby come to mind. They all have these beginnings that shake you and make you question meaning and what is going to happen next. Us makes you question MULTIPLE things within the first 20 minutes. What happened at the boardwalk? Why does the boy always wear that mask? Why are these doppelgangers trying to attack them? Why does the mom snap off-beat to I Got Five on It? So many questions raced through my head while watching.
From there we are treated to amazing acting, wonderful film editing, memorable settings, a great set of villains, great usage of symbolism, and an amazing plot-twist that I won’t spoil. Trust me it is awesome. So this leads to my question… Why the hell wasn’t this nominated for an Oscar? No joke, this amazing, thought provoking film got ZERO nominations. CATS got more nominations than Us!!!! How did this happen???
In past years the film-making aspect of the films nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars has been a big factor in whether or not it coins recognition. Birdman, The Revenant, Dunkirk, Phantom Thread, and La La Land all amazing on technical scale.
Think of La La Land. If you have seen the movie before you know that the story is told a lot through the costume and cinematography. The scene where Sebastian and Mia dance on the hilltop after going to find their cars is a great example of this. The lighting is dark blue with a glow of purplish-pink from the sunset and bright lights from the city below. Mia wears a yellow dress, symbolizing hope, optimism, and brightness. Her dresses change color progressively throughout the film as well as the color schemes. The scene where the two argue over dinner leaves Mia and Sebastian’s faces both in the dark of a pale blue light, symbolizing their fading love and dissembling of their relationship.
Us is a film that also relies on colors heavily. The usage of the color red and various shades of it promote a sense of danger. Adelaide (Nyong’o) as a child carried a bright red candy apple while walking across the boardwalk. Red is a color that symbolizes passion and love, but also is a color that raises blood pressure. When she ventures onto the beach, the redness of the apple is the color that is most prominent on screen. This is also demonstrated by the redness of the doppelganger costumes.
The symbolism in this movie is on a Citizen Kane level of greatness. The frequent use of rabbits, the verse Jeremiah 11:11, the golden scissors, and Hands Across America all contribute to the overall theme of the film and multiple conspiracy theories too. The power of great storytelling is being able to tell little stories along the way through imagery. This isn’t really that common in modern cinema with the exception of films like Inception and No Country for Old Men. In the past you had movies like Apocalypse Now, The Godfather, and A Clockwork Orange that perfected this method of storytelling.
If this film were to be nominated for anything though it is Lupita Nyong’o’s performance. You can argue that 12 Years a Slave is her best role, but no. In my opinion this is one of the best performances I have ever seen. Look at her facial expressions and tone of voice throughout the film. She genuinely looks terrified. her doppelganger was equally as terrified and creepy as hell. If you’re gonna nominate Joaquin for Joker then you have to nominate Lupita for Us.
My parents always told my older brother and I growing up that the way you tell that a movie is good is if you are thinking about it the next day. I thought about this movie for months. I watched hours of conspiracy theory videos and different interpretations of the plot to see if anyone had the same questions I did. I think the only other movie I did this with was Inception, but that’s a whole separate blog.
With all of these things in mind, it really does not make any sense that a film like Us wouldn’t be nominated. Black Panther was nominated last year and was a fine movie, but didn’t break any ground in film-making or acting. Us did more than just be a fine movie, it was a GREAT one. With all the Scorsese talk of what is and isn’t cinema, this totally is cinema.
Whether or not you are a fan of horror films or not, I highly recommend you see Us. It has a lot to offer and should be a film shown in classrooms in the future. You can analyze the life out of this movie and have a good time watching too.