So, last night was Date Night for #Squirrel and me, and I decided that we were going to see Us, Jordan Peele’s latest scary movie. I really regret not seeing Get Out until it was on video for a number of reasons, and I didn’t want to be left feeling the same way about Us.
(It’s at this point that I should remind you that I don’t always hold back when I’m writing my thoughts and opinions about movies, so this is your last SPOILER WARNING. Continue reading at your own risk.)
Let me get this out of the way up front: Us is not as good as Get Out. Get Out was SOMETHING NEW, at least as far as I was concerned, and Get Out had something to say that everyone in America needed to hear. Us is a necessary film, but not in the same way.
Get Out is the movie that tells us: It really sucks to be black in America. That’s a message that everyone needs to embrace, that America is not kind to black people, that it doesn’t always grant us the luxury of that term, “people.”
Us is the movie that says: It doesn’t have to be that way. It delivers that poignant message simply by turning one of the most glaringly prevalent movie tropes of all time on its ear: it’s a horror movie where the black people survive.
The strength of these films, Us in particular, is that they don’t really have to hit you over the head with these themes. They’re not preachy. Get Out wears its satire on its sleeve, but at the end of the day, it’s a film about ONE black person trying to escape ONE plot by awful white people. Us isn’t explicitly about race at all. Us just happens to be about a black family in a world where there are also white families, and shitty stuff is happening all over that world.
Good movies leave you wanting more, but not too much more, and that’s kind of where Us falls just a little flat. Us introduces a very big concept, and ties it to some very specific events in modern history, but those things don’t fully pay off for the audience. We’re reminded at the very beginning of the film of Hands Across America, which I very clearly remember, and it comes back in a very strange and specific way by the film’s end, but not a strange and specific way that I would call satisfying. I really wanted just a little more understanding of why these jumpsuit clad “tethered ones” were forming a not-quite-human chain linked hand to hand across the country. What the hell are these people anyway? Are they clones or what? Why are they there?
I can accept that the film isn’t about those things, but about a smaller, more personal story told in that setting, but when you build a setting, you have to take care to make it understandable. I wanted answers that I wasn’t getting. The nature of the story, the ways in which the story is very specifically about Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o’s character), might just make those answers moot…but then I wish the film hadn’t posed so many questions. I’m not sure that it had to.
But when it comes to the nuts and bolts of film direction, of making the audience feel what you want them to feel…man. In that regard, this movie is a masterpiece. Jordan Peele knows how to use everything in his toolbox, the camera, the performances, the music and the sound…EVERYTHING…to build tension, to make you scared. I can’t tell you the number of times I was scared for Gabe, Winston Duke’s character. He was well and truly put into the role of dude in distress in this film, and it WORKED. I was genuinely scared for him and I was constantly hoping that Adelaide would show up for him. #Squirrel and I alternated between clutching hands and linking arms throughout the entirety of the last two-thirds of the film. We were very much on the edge of our seats.
The movie has a twist, one that I didn’t necessarily see coming, and that twist adds an interesting subtext to the movie and its themes. It turns out [SPOILERS IN THE NAME OF GOD SPOILERS] that Adelaide isn’t a normal human, but is in fact one of the “Tethered,” that this is the outcome of the childhood encounter she has with her own doppelgänger at the beginning of the film. All of the clues are there, although I didn’t pick up on them until about five seconds before the actual reveal, after they’d already started the flashback. The film makes more sense in the wake of that revelation, but not a LOT more sense. There are still annoyingly unanswered questions…but like I said, this twist does add something to the themes of the film. Suddenly, there’s a whole layer of being closeted, of passing, that hadn’t been in the film before. Being the light-skinned person of color, father of fabulously gay men that I am, this hits home with me…although that might just be me finding something of myself in the film, rather than reflecting something that Peele actually intended for the film. But it’s there.
All in all, a very, very good film. If I gave Captain Marvel a B a couple of weeks ago, then I have to give this a B+, if not an A-. It could have been a touch better, but man…it could have been a HELL of lot worse. Definitely worth the time and the money.