CINEMA: This Is America


US (Directed by Jordan Peele, 116 minutes, USA, 2019)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC Us, Jordan Peele’s white-hotly anticipated follow up to to his 2017 breakout hit Get Out, is a stylish, cerebral and visually stunning creepshow that rings loud and true and in the process solidifies his status as our next great American auteur. Peele dodges the sophomore slump serving up another suitably jaundiced meditation on American dysphoria that smartly delivers the requisite scares and yucks. Starring Black Panther break out Winston Duke and Lupita Nyong’o, its a film that’s bigger in scope than than his previous outing and one that examines not just the nuanced complexities of racial identity, but the confounding bewildering of our national identity. It’s a film that is sure to be a hot topic of discussion and feverish interpretation, functioning like a looking glass reflecting the audience’s deepest fears back at them.

Us follows the Wilson family, who are spending some much-needed vacation time in Santa Cruz with their friends the Tylers. Through flashbacks we find out Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o), the matron of the family, suffered an intense trauma 33 years earlier when she wandered off from her family during a trip to the beach and into a strange funhouse. In there she met a little girl that looked just like her and, well, let’s just say she was never the same again. The fear comes flooding back to her when her own son Jason wanders off on that same beach and encounters something as ominous as it is bizarre. Still reeling from that scare later that night she convinces her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) that they should flee their beach house when a family wearing red jumpsuits shows up at their home and begins hunting the family members down one by one. Us starts out as an eerie home invasion thriller and slowly morphs into something unexpected as we soon find out the Wilsons weren’t the only family to have visitors that night as layer upon layer of narrative is revealed about the jump-suited clad killers.

Simultaneously terrifying and hilarious, Us is a popcorn movie with the depth and gravity of Kubrick and the hair-raising suspense of peak Hitchcock. Unlike its predecessor, Us fits more squarely in the horror genre, with the occasional pivot from terror to comic relief. Us channels the creeping dread and paranoia that made Get Out so great, and like that film it holds a mirror up to the semi-invisible internecine warfare raging in every atom of present-day America. The bloody ruckus Peel makes rifling through all that cultural baggage is amplified by the pop culture symbolism and Easter eggs hidden throughout that give every second of the film not just one, but two three or four possible meanings. Us is a big, strange and thought-provoking film that plays with some very volatile ideas that are open to innumerable interpretations and that is what makes Peele’s film a truly great piece of cinema: it’s on you as much as it’s on him.