[SXSW Review] ‘Us’ is a Masterstroke of Genre Genius

Trey Hilburn IIIMovie Reviews, NewsLeave a Comment

Jordan Peele’s move from comedy to horror forged a new name among the masters of horror lineup. With Get Out he added social commentary relevancy back to genre film in game-changing ways. And while a sophomore jinx is always scary and a heck of a possibility, his latest film Us takes a peak in a new terrifyingly relevant area of our society while offering up a new breed of horror.

Us follows a family on vacation down to the coast near Santa Cruz. The introduction to the family leads you safely in, allowing you to put your guard down and experience the events to come shoulder to shoulder along side them. When their home is suddenly attacked by what appears to be doppelgängers, their night goes down a weird, dark and revelatory path. From there the film becomes very much a home invasion thriller with their doppelgängers, who are referred as ‘The Tethered’, attempting to untether themselves using giant pairs of gold scissors.

The cast is absolutely amazing with Elisabeth Moss giving food for nightmares in her portrayal as her doppelgänger, Dahlia. Lupita Nyong’o absolutely transcends as both Adelaide and her dopple, Red. Her choices as Red especially full of a quite menace and is definitely an approach I haven’t seen before.

Peele is on point aesthetically and tonally taking us from bright Instagram gold exteriors to dower claustrophobic areas. Along with these things, he also creates a living mythos out of a a viciously entertaining two-hour runtime. He is also an expert at giving the audience what they don’t want to see in terms of having characters make iffy decisions that he knows will have people screaming “don’t go in there, dummy!” from the aisles. But, he does so with a deep understanding of the genre never allowing you to know where the scare is going to come from within the fun of yelling at the screen.

Where before Peele deconstructed underlying racial injustices through the genre. Here he peels back the covers on America as a whole and explores where the Reagan administration, 80’s era new money and our current state of social media usage has lead us to a time we are embolden to our digital selves.

It’s one of those films that I’m sure can be dissected a hundred ways. And that’s what is really special about it. I can already feel that my second, third and fourth viewings will each bear new theories.

While it is a razor sharp cookie of a film, it is a simultaneous blast and a crowd pleaser. Creating big moments that had our audience cheering, the mood of the film is still very Jordan Peele and in the vein of honesty in comedy and horror. For example, from the beginning of the film, multiple VHS cases are visible on a shelf that include C.H.U.D., The Goonies, The Man with Two Brains among others. And each is playfully paid homage to throughout. This makes for intense melding of fun, smarts and genre nerd stuff that I can totally get behind.

The film is full to the brim with symbolism as well, ranging from baby boomer generation inspired multiplying rabbits, to the easter eggs of strange coincidence that fill each frame. Even the doppelgängers names are in references to specific queues. “Umbrae” for example refers to the darkest part of a shadow. The entire film is filled with these little mysteries that beg to be pieced together.

Cinematographer, Mike Gioulakis is responsible for creating the visual tension in both It Follows and Glass and follows up here with the best thing I have seen him do yet. Not afraid to play around with angles, close-ups and wide shots Gioulakis is able to maintain an energy that is hard to look away from even with the threat of being petrified with fear.

In its final moments the film gives what is going to be one of my favorite edited, choreographed and scored sequences of 2019. It’s entirely haunting, beautiful and grounded in genius and I can’t wait to discuss this in a more spoilery way after the film comes out. Cause… damn!

Us is weird, hilarious, terrifying and poignant. Most importantly it’s devilishly entertaining and has a lot of fun to unpack. Peele is at ease that stance has lent to creating more tension, frights and laughs than he has before. Get Out was good, Us is plain masterful.

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Trey grew up wedged in-between the aisles of a video store. After a Cronenbergian inspired sequence, He has officially become fused with both film and video games. He writes all things pop culture, and has accidentally kicked two sharks and lived. Give him a follow and Tweet him something not too judgy @TreyHilburn.