In new movie Us, Jordan Peele turns horror back to its original purposeby James Robins
The director of Get Out delivers another smart horror heavy on allegory.
Jeremiah is the prophet of doom, railing against society’s ills, warning that invaders are coming from over the hill to burn all that is corrupt. As one character quips near the beginning of Us: “I guess you don’t care about the end of the world.”
This is one of the many tricks, pebble trails, winking jokes and subterranean references swarming beneath Peele’s film. On the surface, though, it appears to conform to genre as a simple, sleek, visceral home-invasion horror.
An unassuming middle-class family are on holiday at their summer house near Santa Cruz. There’s goofy patriarch Gabe (Winston Duke), kids Zora and Jason (Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex) and mother Adelaide (an outstanding Lupita Nyong’o). One night, another family appears on their driveway wearing red jumpsuits and deranged expressions and clutching scissors. They look just like the clan trapped inside the house, but act far more primitively. Asked who they are, Adelaide’s double replies in a voice from the pit of hell: “We’re Americans.”
When confronted with grotesque, funhouse-mirror versions of ourselves, copies shorn of what we imagine to be our civilised edges, do we ignore them? No, says Peele. We beat them with golf clubs. Better to destroy the unhinged id roving the streets than listen to what it has to say.
As with Get Out, Peele’s Oscar-winning debut, I found myself admiring Us at an ironic remove. Instead of being gripped by the many fits of peril and bloodletting, I was more enthralled by its cleverness and shrewd conceits, searching for the hidden latches and codicils of this puzzle box.
Peele has turned horror back to its original purpose: not bump-in-the-night tales of ghouls, but parables that, like the mirrors so central to Us, reflect reality. Fantasy is never just make-believe; rather, it is the most frightening aspects of the here and now heightened to a shattering scream.
IN CINEMAS NOW
Video: Universal Pictures
This article was first published in the April 13, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.
Mike White talks to investigator Tim McKinnel, who says police often turn a blind eye to possible corruption out of a misplaced sense of loyalty.Read more
PM Jacinda Ardern has doubled down on her criticism of Australia's deportation policy as "corrosive", ahead of her meeting with Scott Morrison.Read more
Te Aniwa Hurihanganui looks at the outdated Adoption Act and its impact on Māori who grew up desperate to reconnect.Read more
Women with complications caused by deeply embedded vaginal mesh are being helped by a pioneering surgical technique.Read more
North Auckland farmer Fergus Riley has uncovered many important lessons in caring for his father Peter, who has Alzheimer’s.Read more
Instagram is running a social media experiment to see what happens when it hides the number of likes on photos and other posts.Read more
Duncan Smith and Annabel Tapley-Smith weren’t satisfied with producing meat of uncommon quality. So they bought a butchery.Read more
A study on biodegradable plastic bags found they were still intact after three years spent either at sea or buried underground.Read more