Reel Talk

Us and Identity

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In 2017 we were given one of the year’s biggest surprised in the form of Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, Get Out. I never ended up writing about Get Out when it first came out because I got tremendously sick the day after seeing it, and by the time I could finally string some coherent thoughts together, it kind of felt like it’d missed my chance, because everyone had already picked that film apart. But, I loved it. It was an absolutely phenomenal film, one of those movies that completely catches you off guard and virtually ensures that you’re going to be down with anything this creator has to put out for the rest of their career. I’d liked Peele, but had never really thought a whole lot about him until Get Out landed on me like a ton of bricks, and I found myself in the position that I was eagerly awaiting whatever he felt like doing next. And, there was a slight amount of trepidation involved. Because Get Out was one of those incredibly complex movies, the type of thing that comes from a first time writer/director that kind of makes you feel like it was the summation of everything they’d been working on. Get Out is an incredibly complex film, absolutely saturated with symbolism, and it generally had the feeling like it was something Peele had been perfecting for ages. So, I was a little worried that his follow-up wouldn’t have that same zeal, that same insanely intricate passion. But, as soon as we started learning things about his second feature, Us, it felt like he was going to be recapturing some of that magic. Leaning completely into horror, Us looked downright terrifying, while also feeling incredibly mysterious, since most of the marketing seemed to just be carried by the fact that most people would just go see whatever the follow-up to Get Out would be. And, while I still think I prefer Get Out, it’s impossible to deny that Us is a fascinating movie, and one that we’ll be picking over for quite some time.

Us follows a woman named Adelaide Wilson who is on vacation with her husband Gabe, and their children Zora and Jason, heading to Adelaide’s family beach-house Santa Cruz. Adelaide seems generally against the whole thing, and grows increasingly quite as they approach Santa Cruz, which reaches a peak when Gabe suggests that they leave the normal beach they enjoy and head down to a larger beach in Santa Cruz proper. But, she relents, and the family go to the beach that Adelaide frequently visited in her youth, where they hang out with Gabe’s friends Josh and Kitty and their twin daughters. But, while at the beach, Jason wanders off and encounters a man covered in blood. He runs back to his parents, and they head back to their home, where Adelaide finally tells Gabe what her issue with Santa Cruz is. Apparently when she was a little girl she visited that same beach, and after wandering off from her parents she found a house of mirrors. She went inside, and ended up finding what appeared to be a dopplegangers of herself, and that incident has haunted her her entire life, convinced that someday that doppleganger will find her again. And, right on time, something strange happens. Gabe and Adelaide realize that there’s a family ominously waiting at the top of their driveway, and after Gabe attempts to scare them off, the strange family rush into the house and take them hostage.

Which, would be frightening enough, but it becomes doubly so when they realize that this family is comprised of creepy dopplegangers of them, seemingly being led by Adeladie’s doppleganger, who is known as Red. She explains that her family are Adelaide’s family’s shadows, and they’ve come to get their revenge and take over their lives. Red and her family begin attacking Adelaide’s family, but eventually the family is able to escape after killing Gabe’s doppleganger. They then attempt to reach Josh and Kitty’s house for help, but find that they aren’t the only ones having a terrible night. Josh and Kitty’s family also have dopplegangers who have arrived and killed all four of them, replacing them and attacking Adelaide’s family when they arrive. But, after another couple fights, Adeladie’s family are able to kill these new dopplegangers, which is when they learn of the scale of this strange event. People all around the country are being killed by their dopplegangers, who appear to be working together and forming a large chain across America, a la Hands Across America. So, figuring that they won’t be safe anywhere, the family at least decide to flee the town to avoid their surviving dopplegangers. But, while attempting to escape Santa Cruz, and after killing Zora and Jason’s dopplegangers, they run into a problem. Red kidnaps Jason and takes him below ground, through a secret passageway inside he hall of mirrors. Adelaide follows Red down into the depth, and eventually finds herself in a strange facility. And, in that facility we get some background. Apparently the United States government has been creating clones of the entire population in an attempt to control them through a mysterious bond the clones and the humans would have, forcing them to live underground. The government has apparently bailed on that project though, and left the clones to die, until Red started a revolution, planning this elaborate unveiling and rampage. But, the reason goes beyond simple jealousy. It turns out that Red is the actual Adelaide, and when she found her doppleganger as a child, the doppleganger knocked her out and locked her down with the clones, adopting her life and becoming the Adelaide that we’ve been following the entire time. Adelaide still kills Red though, feeling no remorse for her doppleganger, and then leaves the facility with Jason, hoping to never tell her family the truth, even though Jason may have figured it all out.

 

 

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I really wasn’t sure what to expect from Us. The trailers for the film didn’t seem to give away a lot of plot details other than “family are attacked by their dopplegangers,” and upon having seen the actual movie, it really didn’t show much beyond the first act. But, I trust Jordan Peele, and went in ready for another weird horror movie. And, it delivered. This movie is fascinating, kind of obtuse, and genuinely one of the creepier things I’ve seen in years. But, I didn’t like it nearly as much as I did Get Out. It’s a fun little horror movie, featuring some stellar direction, some world-class acting, a phenomenal use of score, and some of the tightest editing I’ve ever seen, but it also feels like it’s a little more scatter-brained. Peele clearly has a lot he wants to say, but at times it feels like there’s too much to say. I had assumed, as is typically the fashion, that these dopplegangers would be of a mystical nature, never really explained. But, instead we’re suddenly dumped into a strangely complicated world in the last act, full of government conspiracies, clones ,and revolution, which ends up sinking the film a little in my estimations. The first two thirds of the film are fantastic, but the ending finds itself in an incredibly strange place, to the point where I feel like it would work better if they explained far more, or far less, because the amount of information we do end up getting becomes oddly distracting, pulling away from what made the film work in the first two thirds. And, when it works it really works. I’ve been fans of Winston Duke and Lupita Nyongo’o for a while now, but they’re both in rare form in this film , especially Lupita. She puts in an absolutely stellar performance, both as Adelaide and Red, showing what a truly spectacular performer she really is.

Us is a film, much like Get Out, that I’m going to be thinking about for quite a while. And, just like Get Out, now that I’ve seen it for myself and have ruminated on it a bit, I’m going to diving headfirst into the reviews, reactions, and takes that black people are having with it. Peele is making films that can easily play with a majority of audiences, but that are built on symbolism and references that I just frankly miss, and that become infinity more powerful with some context, giving me films that get better the more I read about them. And, I’m sure Us is operating in a similar vein, full of things that I just am unaware of, but am eager to learn about. But, I feel like it’s undeniable that Us is working through issues of identity. That’s kind of the whole deal with doppleganger stories, people being terrified of their other sides, the other personalities that lurk beneath the surface, and the completely different people that they could potentially become, or that they’ve avoided becoming. And, I see that in the story of Adelaide, especially once we see the twist. Adelaide (at least the character we spend the majority of the film believing to be Adelaide) began her life in the absolute worst position. And, when she found an opportunity to get out of that position , she took it, ignoring any repercussions. She saw he shot, and she took it. But, she’s then spent her entire life worried about what she did, and fearful that she will have to pay for what she did. And, eventually she does, literally coming across what she would have been like if she’d stayed in her old position. We’re always terrified of what we are, what we could have been, and what we will be. It just seems to be part of human nature. And this film takes that guilt and fear and uncertainty and puts it all on screen in very literal and terrifying terms.

 

Us was written and directed by Jordan Peele and released by Universal Pictures, 2019.

 

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