Warning: This movie review contains spoilers.
Jordan Peele has a cult following from his work in the comedic circuit - especially Key and Peele -, but he really made a name for himself with his 2017 horror movie Get Out, which followed a young African- American who visits with his white girlfriend's parents for the weekend, only to find a simmering uneasiness leads to a horrific turn of events.
The movie received a great reception for not only sending a big message about racism in America, but also as a way to turn the way horror movies usually perceive African-Americans on its head. It addressed racism in a more covert sense, and Peele was haled a chief for his satire that mirrors the black experience in current times. As a white female in Australia, I left feeling like a racist and a traitor to my own heritage and the way that Caucasians have addressed African-American and black people for centuries.
With the images of Get Out very much so ingrained in my mind, I was excited to see how deeply Peele would approach his new horror movie Us, which hit screens on March 28. With the blurb being "a family's serenity turns to chaos when a group of doppelgängers begins to terrorize them" it definitely seems like Peele is taking on the idea of identity theft, but Peele himself proclaimed that the story was about "the simple fact that we are our own worst enemies"
Peele's depiction was entirely correct. His take on societal fears has reached a boiling point with Us, as the focus is on the movies' antagonists The Tethered are an abandoned experiment commissioned by an unknown group to see if the population above ground can be controlled like puppets. The idea of the Tethered draw deeply on urban legends, speculative fiction, government conspiracies, and deep paranoia to create an intricate layering that leaves the audiences a little bit perplexed. You leave the movie thinking, "I know what we just saw - but what did we just see?"
Us is deeply meta and the best way I can describe it is to go full Shrek and call it an onion. It is full of little details that unveil themselves throughout the movie, and these parts that are torn away and revealed are excellent for the story. Learning about the truth of what happened to main character Adelaide (played by Lupita Nyong’o) and her doppelganger is a great twist on the ending and puts the whole plan into motion. Seeing the "Hands Across America" start with the old Jeremiah 11:11 dude was a real light bulb moment in saying, "Oh! He's the one that first started it!" and discovering that the pretty much the whole world is under attack and not just the main family puts the story into a bigger perspective.
But at times, Us is a little too meta. The conspiracy theories would be best utilised if the meta-ness was pulled back just a layer or two so that the full movie could be understood and looked at as a whole. The "Hands Across America" idea suggests that Red is showing the world that if given the opportunity to succeed, anybody can rise to the occasion - but this isn't really communicated, leaving audiences scratching their heads a little. Same with the rabbits. As much as I enjoy seeing the little creatures running around - despite being told they are eaten raw by the doppelgangers - their appearance in the film is not really referred to. Is it a lesson in cloning, or is it simply because Jordan Peele is afraid of rabbits? Teenage daughter Zora (played by Shahaid Wright Joseph) is seen with a rabbit on one of her T-shirts and Peele's love of symbolism means that the rabbits have to point to something deeper, but this also not really explained.
Despite the general meta-ness that needs to be peeled away, the movie is a fantastic horror movie with appropriate twists and turns that will spark a great conversation in film class and views of society.
Starring some incredible actresses such as Lupita Nyong'o (who took centre stage in 12 Years a Slave) and The Handmaiden Tale's Elisabeth Moss, the actors behind the main family of Zora, Jason (Evan Alex) and Gabe (Winston Duke) do a fabulous job as a solid family, but also in turn take on the role of the deranged doppelgangers to great affect. Everyone is spot on and solid in their roles and their acting ability, and it really showcases Peele's eye for detail in hiring tremendous actors to bring his unique brand of horror alive.
I give Us three stars out of five.
Us is out in Australian cinemas now.