Director: Jordan Peele
Writer: Jordan Peele
Cinematographer: Mike Gioulakis
Producer: Jason Blum, Ian Cooper, Sean McKittrick, and Jordan Peele
by Jon Cvack
Continued from Part 1...
The family separates, taking off in different directions as the male figure walks toward Gabriel who runs back inside, attempting to block the door as the two doppelgänger children find other ways into the house. Quickly we realize this this is the Wilson family’s doppelgänger; with a Red, her alleged husband Abraham, and their alleged children Umbrae and Pluto (all played by the same characters, which is actually surprising, as I would have sworn they weren’t; demonstrating the great skill of Peele and his cast).
In an intense moment, as the eight characters sit around a fire, we hear Red speak as though being choked to death, revealing in cryptic fashion something about their origin, but all I remember is the cringey line about being Americans; which just felt so heavy and on the nose, that I was surprised “Still Processing”” didn’t at least poke fun at it, instead electing to praise it, and for reasons that, by necessity, also fell right on the nose and therefore cheapened a significant moment; one interpretation being that while the Wilson’s might have found success in life, the doppelgängers remain nearly invisible; the hosts recalling a beautiful W.B. Dubois quote about African Americans having to live in with two identities - that of Black America’s attempt to integrate itself within a White Culture while preserving and living the realities of what it means to be black in America. I don’t think “American” was the wrong word choice, so much as that a more cryptic idea about duality or identity could have worked to enforce this idea.
The Wilson’s escape by boat, heading to their friends Kitty and Josh who are introduced inside a very expensive and ugly modern smart home. They have two daughters who’re also glued to their phones, and when Kitty thinks she hears a noise outside, demanding and soon shouting at Josh check it out, he gets up from his chair and we learn that they’re in fact only renting the monstrosity of the place; providing a subtle nod toward our expectations of ethnic stereotypes in cinema. For whatever reason I just assumed they were owners and I think it was this assumption that speaks volumes for even the most benign biases.
Outside Josh discovers a family of four white people; all played by the same characters, who proceed to butcher the family in one of the most creative deaths I’ve seen in awhile; taking inspiration from one of my favorite recent home invasion films, The Strangers (2008) and specifically its use of "Mama Tried", with Peele instead making creative use of Amazon Alexa to initiate NWA’s Fuck the Police and provide a murder sequence score that we’ve rarely see in - again - the predominantly white sub-genre of home invasion films.
The Wilson’s later arrive, finding their neighbor’s dead and turning on the television to provide that classic scene that every film replicates from Night of the Living Dead (1968), in which the characters gather around the television to see exactly what had been happening. They learn that throughout the world, there has been an uprising of people who are killing their above-Earth doppelgängers, then joining hands in some great link that’s meant to span across most of the globe.
This of course doesn’t make sense, but the film has been so expertly executed and so finely crafted that while suspicious of how they could make sense of it all, I was confident that it’d make enough sense to pull if off.
My confidence was all the more reinforced when the family attempts to take the Tyler’s car, with Zora demanding to drive and the dad cracking jokes, and while I wanted to think no character could possibly joke given what’s happening, they mostly bent just far enough to blend with the situation. Again, in “Still Processing”, the hosts mentioned the idea of having Gabriel be self-awarely playing the traditional role of the black character in predominantly white films - the person always cracking jokes and making light of the situation, serving to both comment on the situation and perhaps try and assist his kids in dealing with the situation; something the Scary Movie franchise satirized.
They drive through the night and arrive back at the Santa Cruz boardwalk, finding Pluto standing in front of their old car which is engulfed in flames; with a small trail of gas heading in their direction. Pluto flicks a match, ready to light them up. Here was the first hiccup, as I couldn’t help but wonder 1) how a thin trail of gas would possibly endanger the Wilsons, as just because there’s something burning beneath my car doesn’t mean it's going to explode, or 2) how Jason then mimics the Pluto’s moves which somehow leads him to walk back into the flames and burn himself alive. At no point did I get the impression that these individuals are so easily controlled, let alone completely stupid, and I feared it was more in an effort to create a cinematic experience than abide by the story’s own logic.
Thinking they’re officially out of the clear, Adelaide takes a walk back to the funhouse, entering, walking through to the back and down an escalator and suddenly discovering what looks to be an abandoned underground train station, where hundreds of bunny rabbits run in all directions. Knowing the answer was coming to a close, if not yet arrived, the alarms starting sounding off - there was no way this was getting tied up nicely.
Adelaide then finds Red in a classroom, drawing on a board as dozens of open rabbit cages stand at the rear and we learn that the government had created the colony called the “Tethered” in order to control the public, but abandoned the experiment due to the dangers, and then trapped the people underground. As a result, they were left mimicking those they saw above them; namely, pretending they were on the Santa Cruz boardwalk and playing at the carnival.
Logic exceeded high alert at this point, as again, having spent the whole film wondering what the hell was going on, with anticipation building all the more so with how expertly crafted the film was, I was left with an utter sense of disappointment. And for a film that was looking to be as good as Shyamalan's Signs (2002) or Unbreakable (2000); fell to dustbin of The Village (2004) and even flirted with The Happening (2008).
We are expected to believe that a colony of people across the country were living in a bunch of underground tunnels; never escaping, yet somehow able to mimic the people at a theme park. Additionally, they were able to assemble themselves into perfect mirror images of families they had theoretically never met. And for at least thirty years (from the time young Adelaide encountered them), no one had ever seen them before; as in the case of the Santa Cruz boardwalk, no worker at the funhouse ever thought to go in the backroom and down an escalator where they would discover thousands of individuals.
While the film carried out a strange dance sequence, the damage had been done. For as much as I could accept that some U.S. Government humanoid creation could have natural hunting and killing abilities, I could not accept that they’d never escape, or that they somehow communicated with each other across the country and world, or that no one would have ever discovered them.
A friend asked what I would liked to see, to which I responded that such a question shook the film’s entire foundation. Again, most scary movies operate under a simple suspension of disbelief - there is something weird going on and we don’t know what, or there is a supernatural killer on the loose and we’re following the characters who battle against it. In Rosemary’s Baby (1968) we learn that it’s witchcraft, in Halloween (1978) and The Thing (1982) we root for for the main character to destroy the monster, in Scream (1996) we want to know who the killer is, in The Exorcist (1973) we want to know how to triumph over an actual product of Satan, in The Shining (1980), we want to see if the family can escape the haunted hotel.
Similar to my thoughts on What Lies Beneath (2000), Zemeckis’ Hitchcock/horror film hybrid, next to Identity (2003), is one of the most disappointing third acts of a movie compared to what precedes it. The problem is that what starts out in reality, then drifts into the supernatural, failing to ever reconcile the two worlds. There is the fun of not knowing what’s going on, expertly crafted and gluing you to the screen, and then reconciling that with some horror/psycho-thriller answer that just doesn’t provide the answer you’re looking for.
Us is more a Hitchcockian thriller in structure than a horror film, and therefore it’s about answers; what Shyamalan and Hitchcock had accomplished with their best work. In the conversations I’ve had, I’m left with people telling me that it’s just something I have to accept. Yet for a film who’s entire purpose is geared toward both a cinematic experience and the satisfaction of an answer, I’m not sure how people can accept the latter. Us is a good film, and I’m sure I’ll turn back to it a few times in the future; hoping I missed something. Maybe I’ll even be able to accept the premise, but like most films that fail to provide a sufficient answer, I think it’s going to remain a film for those who simply want the journey, no matter where it leads. There’s enough in this film to unpack for years, and if anything, it makes me excited for what Peele comes up with next, hoping that with the same level of craft, he can tie it all up to make everyone happy.
BELOW: Great scene
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