Jordan Peele’s “Us” (2019): Review

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The Wilson family in Jordan Peele's "Us"

Jeremiah 11:11 is a bible passage that is noted several times in the early setup for this film. I won’t tell you what it says, but it is not so good for whomever it is referring to.

The beginning of this film opens with a family at a boardwalk carnival in California. The mother is very protective of her daughter’s welfare and the playful father is chastised by his dubious wife for being adventurous. The daughter wanders off while the parents are distracted. She encounters an “End Is Nigh” type of character holding up the aforementioned reference. The girl then continues wandering onto the nearby beach. In a very well-filmed scene that is both suspenseful and ominous, she has a strange encounter with another little girl in a funhouse.

[Spoilers]

If you are familiar with this movie at all, you already know it is about a family, the Wilsons, and how they are threatened by an inexplicable version of themselves.

The mother of the family (played by radiant actress Lupita Nyong’o) happens to be the same little girl some decades later, grown up and now married with a daughter and son. They appear to be a middle class family with enough education and success that they can afford a vacation home. The daughter is mostly aloof, but people think the son is “weird.” He wears a Chewbacca mask a lot. The mother and father’s dynamic is somewhat similar to the earlier parents — with the father (Winston Duke) being adventurous and the mother being a little odd — sort of anxious and protective.

We are introduced to a second family — another couple with twin girls. The mother (Elizabeth Moss), seems like she is not too happy with her life, but they are doing well enough. The two fathers seem to have a backstory of competitive achievements marked, for example, by vehicle acquisitions. In a moment that is reminiscent of the boy on the beach scene in Jaws. The tension and mystery begin to build with a moment of panic.

As expected, the Wilson family eventually encounters the strange-but-familiar family, the title characters referred to as “us.” When it is explained to the Wilsons who this “us” family is, one might begin to think this must be an allegory about the middle class leaving behind other less fortunate members of society, perhaps specifically about members of the African-American community. An assumption made possibly by the fact that the main characters are notably unlike the leading persons in most other horror films to date. Perhaps these intimidating figures represent an uprising of people who were left to wallow in painful, low-class existences, while successful families moved on and left them standing in their shadow, ignored.

Ah, but, is that it? Clever commentary, maybe, if so. And if that were the point of the film, then that would be more than enough in an era of horror films that seem to make no sense whatsoever, much less have they any “point.” This film, though, might defy your limited expectations –. Okay, rather, it may go beyond my assumptions about where it might be going.

It is genuinely enjoyable in its execution — the action sequences are believable in their awkwardness; the family is clearly confused and frightened, but kept together as a caring unit. The direction by Jordan Peele really drags the audience into what is happening with foibles that make you laugh out loud, situations that will make you cringe and squinch up your shoulders, and then have you cheering for the Wilsons’ survival.

But is that it — the point? What happens in the end? Honestly, I have not yet finished watching Us, so I don’t know the answer just yet. Up to the part where I just had to stop and write about it, I have enjoyed the characters, the mystery, and the emotional reactions that I have had. It’s sort of an alternate reality, Twilight Zone-ish world; so it’s not realistic in that sense. But it is still really good and frightening. I’m going to finish it now…. I’m sure it will have a decent, disturbing ending, since the first 4/5 have been a masterful piece of suspense and storytelling by writer, director, and producer Jordan Peele, the cast, and his crew.

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