Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Jordan Peele’s Us

It always comes back to the 1980s, especially when the subject is horror movies. In this case, we start our yarn in 1986, but the influence of the Eighties will still be clearly evident when the tale picks up sometime roughly now. It starts by name-checking C.H.U.D., the original there-are-bad-things-below-our-streets-and-it’s-the-government’s-fault B-movie and ultimately shows up Hands Across America as the cultish, attention-seeking behavior it so obviously was. The doppelgangers will stock their entitled analogs in Jordan Peele’s Us, which releases today on DVD.

When she was a child, Adelaide Wilson gave her parents a bit of a scare when she wandered off along the Santa Cruz boardwalk, getting lost in a hall of mirrors. She returned ostensibly safe and sound, but to this day, she remains haunted by an encounter with her doppelganger. In the present day, Adelaide and Gabe Wilson are like the horror movie Huxtables. He proudly wears his Howard University sweatshirt, but his primary concern is keeping up with their well-heeled frienemies, the Tyler family. Then one fateful night, the Wilsons see four shadowy figures who look a lot like them standing ominously in their driveway, as you probably know from the trailer.

It is not a casual social call. The game is on, but it would be spoilery to reveal the revelations that will come out as the stressful night continues. Us lends itself to a fair number of class-conscious interpretations, but it represents a vast improvement over Peele’s wildly over-hyped Get Out, starting with the happy fact that it truly is a horror movie rather than a gimmicky thriller with an assortment of genre trappings.

In fact, the film is pretty intense. To Peele’s credit, he proves he can throw down the fear old school 80’s style. He also hints at the chaotic global picture in intriguing ways, without detracting from the micro-tension of the Wilsons’ ordeal (not unlike later installments of Romero’s Living Dead franchise). One cool thing about Us is the proliferation of internet debates regarding what really happened and the symbolic meaning of it all, whereas even for admirers of Get Out, it was all cut-and-dried up there on the screen.

When not working on Marvel/Star Wars/Disney properties, Lupita Nyong’o could become a new Jamie Lee Curtis based on her work in Us and the sweet zombie comedy Little Monsters.  As Adelaide Wilson, she has to imply some strange and complicated emotional responses we shouldn’t really get into, but she pulls it off quite assuredly. It is the sort of performance many viewers will want to re-watch with the benefit of hindsight.

Winston Duke nicely counterbalances Nyong’o as the more passive, easy-going Gabe. Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex are both terrific as pre-teen daughter Zora Wilson and her younger brother Jason, as well as their doppelgangers. However, Elisabeth Moss shamelessly steals her scenes as catty Kitty Tyler.

Us has no post-credit stinger, so it saves us that annoyance. Peele packs in a lot of weirdness, but it all has a role to play, so do not forget about the opening images. Most importantly, Us represents a major departure from Get Out, because it is actually scary. Recommended for horror fans, Us releases today on DVD and BluRay.