Welcome back to another Friday Nightmare Reviews wherein I tell you what you should be watching today instead of something you’ve likely seen a lot more. So this summer has gotten off to a pretty interesting start to say nothing more of the matter. I don’t intend to hide that on here, for whomever might be reading my reviews. I also don’t intend to hide my support for the BLM movement and my want to contribute to the changes necessary to make sure that people in all communities, especially black and indigenous, feel safe. A part of that is reading about things and finding out more about Black history and that brings us to today.
As of this posting, today is what is known in the black community as Juneteenth. For those of you like me, who are now realizing that there’s a lot that they skipped over in history classes, you might not know what that is. Juneteenth is known as Freedom Day and it’s celebrating the emancipation of the last black person to be freed from slavery in 1865. (Some of you out there might be thinking that emancipation actually started in January of 1863 and you would be correct, however, there were some communities that were a little less willing to give up the horrendous ghost on the matter. Again, there’s much to read on this out there when you get a chance.) I am not going to do a disservice to the significance of this day and what it means to the black community by trying to give my account of what it is, so I highly encourage you to wander out into the internet and do some reading and find out more. I assure you that there’s likely a lot about it that you’ll find out and more than I can cover in a little movie review.
And about that movie review, I had considered if I should post today or not. It’s not difficult for me to move my schedule around and, for future reference, if anyone would prefer it that way, let me know and I will absolutely change things around to give respect to those who’s voices should be louder on days like these. I don’t mind and I’m happy to do it. That said, for this first round, I thought that in the spirit of celebrating the accomplishments of black talent, we could look at one of my absolute favorite films that features a mostly black cast and the writing and directing talents of one Mr. Jordan (Fucking) Peele. I’m not doing the pairing suggestions for this one because I feel like that would be a bit on the disrespectful side, considering the gravitas of the day. That said, if you are wanting to enjoy following up the film by joining the cause, I highly recommend checking out active petitions to sign and donations to bail funds that are still needing them. And with that, let’s get to US.
This is the second offering in the horror genre from Jordan Peele, whose comedy work a lot of people were already familiar with prior to him jumping into making films. His first movie Get Out was highly praised across the board, getting put on top ten lists by most horror bloggers and vloggers for the year and coming in as the second highest grossing horror film of 2017. (Had it been any other year, it would have likely had the top spot but it just had the bad luck of being released seven months prior to the highest grossing horror film of all time in the same year. Trust me, there was a pretty decent gap between Get Out and the number three slot.) Because his first major project was such a landmark film, and I would say especially because it was a movie that didn’t flinch when it came to discussions regarding race, there were a lot of people who were anxious to see what it was that Peele was going to do next. The film we’re going to be talking about this week, Us, came out in March of 2019 and unlike the previous movie, this one learned far more into a pure horror story. We’ll get back to talking about how it did as a horror movie soon enough but to start, let’s tackle the plot.
This is a story that’s deceptively simple and yet a lot more complex once you get the bigger picture. Sticking with the simple aspects so as not to spoil anything, we start off meeting Adelaide as a child. She is going through a beach front carnival in Santa Cruz with her parents, whose relationship is clearly suffering from some strain. Addie is pretty young and not all that interested in her parent’s strife so when her mom has to step away from them and her father is distracted, she wanders away to the beach and finds a cheap house of mirrors shack to explore. Once inside, she finds that one of the reflections that she sees is actually a person who looks exactly like her.
From here, we fast forward to Addie as an adult, played to perfection by Lupita Nyong’o. She is married with two kids and despite being on vacation, she’s just a little bit on the anxious side as this family outing is taking her back to her childhood home in Santa Cruz. On the surface, all is fine with the family. Her husband, Gabe, played by Winston Duke, is a bit slow on the uptick but ultimately very likeable. Her teen daughter, Zora, is a bit of a defiant sass queen but never to the tune of being unpleasant or unrealistic. She even has a pretty fond, if not fairly realistic, relationship with her brother, Jason. There’s a bit of unresolved anxiety going on in the family but Gabe, being the type to want to smooth things over, still pushes to go to the beach to meet up with their well to do white friends, Kitty and Josh, and their twin teenage daughters. From here, things start to get weird.
After getting his sand tunnels ruined by the twins, Jason decides to wander off towards anywhere that has a bathroom, either because he actually had to go or because the wonder twins were obnoxious as fuck. Upon finding the bathroom, Jason also finds what looks like a homeless man standing with his arms out and with bloodied up fingers. The man doesn’t pose a threat to him, as far as he knows, but it’s weird enough to decide he wants none of this so he wanders back to find his mother beside herself with panic, despite everyone else in the group not quite understanding why. The family makes its way back home only to find that at exactly 11:11 pm, they get company in the form of a family that looks identical to them, all dressed in red jumpsuits. Despite their best efforts, the invading family makes its way into their house and they are faced with their mirror images. Adelaide’s doppelganger then tells a chilling tale of how they are tethered together, the family enjoying the comforts and benefits of the above world while their shadowed counterparts live underground, experiencing a horrible opposite reality void of light, choice or care. Adelaide’s tethered doppel, Red, then announces that now is the time of their untethering and the pairs separate with their twins. Zora, an avid runner who has recently decided that she isn’t sure she wants to continue with it, is set running with her shadow, Umbrae, following quickly behind. Gabe, who cannot shut up, ends up tangling with his tethered counterpart, Abraham. Jason is sent to “play” with his mirror, Pluto. And from here, things get deadly.
If you’ve heard nothing else about this movie, you’ve likely heard that the cast, particularly Lupita Nyong’o, is incredible. The fact that everyone had to play their own doppelganger would have been enough of a challenge because you’re essentially playing your own villain as well as hero. This was somewhat both easier and more difficult for the support cast because the tethered don’t speak, except for Red. They aren’t in danger of having dialogue that betrays their differences in character. That said, this means that all of the actors have to portray their own shadows using only facial expressions for the most part. It’s a show of incredible talent to be able to pull this off and there was no one that broke this illusion throughout the movie. It would have been so easy to have just one actor completely mess their expression or act out of keeping with their tethered role and it could have pulled you right out of the story but the whole of the movie, this never happens. The family’s fight for survival is tense, dramatic and entertaining as hell. And we have to talk about Lupita because while she is surrounded by an incredible supporting cast who all deliver, her performance is every bit as good as everyone else claims it is.
As the only tethered that can speak, Red is our sole source of information on them and it’s genuinely terrifying how she is able to paint such an awful picture of their lives underground using almost a fairytale as the means to communicate. For years, people have pointed to the tale that Quint tells in Jaws as one of the most chilling scenes in cinema for how he is able to paint a picture for you using nothing but a story. I’m quite comfortable telling you that what Lupita’s Red says is on par, if not better. Nyong’o doesn’t just nail it through the effect of changing her voice. She full on looks like a completely different person and she carries that creep factor of the antagonist effortlessly. The final showdown between Adelaide and Red is intense, emotional and executed perfectly. I am including absolutely nothing from that part because it’s something you need to see. The visuals are so worth it to go in blind, if only because it just looks so damn cool and it’s so much more fun if you don’t know what to expect.
While Jordan Peele’s first film skirted the line, inching it into horror as a genre because of certain elements, this one leaves no doubt in your mind as to what he was doing. There’s some genuinely gruesome and chilling scenes in the film that are thoroughly tense and intimidating to watch. That said, Peele has never stopped including his trademark humor in his films and this one is no exceptions. I couldn’t tell you where most of the funny bits were where I tried because so much of it is just the cleverness of the dialogue and the juxtaposition of the scene around the family and their reactions to it. All of this would have already made a clever, unique and fun horror film but Peele goes into another layer that almost feels a bit like a fairytale becoming a nightmare. Considering that most horror films tend to operate on fairytale logic anyway, this isn’t a huge stretch but with the combination of the grisly horror scenes and the dark humor elements added to the Alice in Wonderland atmosphere, in the hands of someone less skilled, there are many ways that this could fall apart. Peele proves that he’s not only a very smart writer but also able to pull all these elements together in a way that makes sure that all of them hit the right notes at the right time.
Obviously you already know I love this film. It’s horror at its most fun but also reaching up and being ambitious with its scope. It’s not afraid to let the fun parts shine and really use the visual and audio cues to let the audience really enjoy the ride but the rollercoaster isn’t going to skimp on those thrills either and when shit gets real, it delivers with a punch. It’s also the type of movie that should be seen more than once and even once you know the twists to come, it’s still got more to show you. There are some people who might not like the fact that not everything is evenly wrapped up at the end but this is another element that I do kind of love is how the film never holds your hand and treats you like you’re too stupid to cross the finish line yourself. In all, if you want a fun horror flick that celebrates some incredibly talented people, that is going to make you think and is going to still get you with some pretty delicious scares, this is a great one to put on today.
And since today is a day of such significance to the black community, I have not offered any early access on this review, nor am I linking to my Patreon this time. There’s time to look that up later on if you feel inclined to support my content. Instead, I am happy to direct you to a few places where your money might be of greater help to support those in need in the fight for equality. If you’ve already donated to these causes and are looking for other ways to support the black community right now, check out the many lists going around about black owned stores and restaurants, black artists on Etsy or the many GoFundMe campaigns going around these days. Until next week, look out for each other, say something if you see someone getting hurt, continue to wash your hands and take care of yourselves and those around you. Much love!
American Civil Liberties Union – aclu.org
Refugee and Immigrant Centre for Education and Legal Services – www.raicestexas.org
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People – naacp.org