US: A Movie Review

I have been eagerly waiting to see this film since it’s release a month ago or so. I was impressed and intrigued by writer/director Jordan Peele’s last movie, “Get Out.” I found it to be well written, very nicely cast, and expertly and delicately acted. It left me thinking and talking for a long time after the credits rolled. It operated on several different layers, and I appreciated the subtle subtext and intelligent and complex messages injected into his story.

His follow-up film “Us” continues in this tradition.

I want to preface this by saying there will be NO SPOILERS in the following review. This movie demands you approach it with an open mind, and no preface is needed.

The film tells the story of the Wilson family, who take a vacation to Santa Cruz, California. They intend to relax and spend time with their family friends, the Tyler family. Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) is visible uneasy, as she experienced traumatic events in this location years ago as a young child. On their first night at her former childhood home, a strange and mysterious family breaks into her house. The movie follows the Wilson family as they attempt to deal with this situation and make sense of what follows.

Screen shot from “Us”

Ok, first off…I love this movie. Truthfully, I wasn’t sure what to think initially after watching it, but over the last 24 hours as I’ve thought about it and dissected it in my head, and it is exactly the kind of movie that’s worth watching. I particularly loved it for the lead actress (Lupita Nyong’o) as well as the subtext, themes and subtle messages layered within this smart and well thought out film. The English teacher in me was standing and starting a slow ‘80’s clap at its conclusion.

Let me start with the acting. As a theatre teacher and actor myself, I can absolutely attest to the challenge in these roles. Several of the characters in this film play double roles, which is a challenge in and of itself, but this movie creates extra demands on its actors and actresses. The relentless energy and focus needed to create and maintain honest, realistic and gripping characters is incredible, and these actors accomplish that! There is no better example in this movie than the main female protagonist, played with nuance and obvious skill by Lupita Nyong’o. She has already proven her acting prowess in other films, such as Black Panther and 12 Years a Slave…but her work in this movie challenges her on a whole new level, and her physical, vocal and emotional acting is incredible powerful and engaging. She had me focused on her the entire movie, and there wasn’t one point where I didn’t believe her character(s). She was the foundation of this movie, in my opinion.

Screenshot from “Us”

The genre of this movie would be categorized as horror/thriller, but don’t let that dissuade you. It’s not like any horror movie you’re thinking of. It’s horror in the same way life can be a horror movie, which is to say horror exists in our hearts, not our eyes. This movie doesn’t attempt to cheaply gain your screams by scare tactics. It doesn’t try to to create visually horrifying scenes of carnage to momentarily fill you with fear and dread. Rather, what Jordan Peele has successfully accomplished in this film is to get the viewer to question normal and prevalent aspects of our society, and make us ask, “what if?” He holds up a mirror and asks us to look at ourselves.

One of the main themes this movie very clearly explores is the American dream, and specifically, the failure and shortcomings of that American Dream. As an English teacher, I loved this because it’s one of the main themes explored in so many classic novels, such as “Of Mice and Men”. In that novel, we follow two men desperately trying to grasp on to their piece of happiness; their American Dream. As any of my 8th graders can tell you, what the novel tries to tell us is that perfection doesn’t exist, and even the best of plans, hopes, dreams and intentions sometimes fall short. Sometimes, despite all your effort and dreams, you won’t achieve that dream.

This movie explores this theme, but from a different and slightly darker angle.

Overall, I enjoyed this movie, and like a good wine, it got better as time went by. As I’m sitting here writing this, I keep thinking of new aspects to consider, and other little details the director craftily inserted to make us think and question. I will most certainly watch it again now that I know what to look for and what scenes I should watch with an observant eye.

This movie is not merely entertainment, it is art. Like any good art, it makes us ask questions, re-think ideas we thought we knew, and it maybe even make us uneasy or annoyed/upset…but you will think about it.

And that, after all, is the whole point of art.

-Z

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