‘Us’ Review: Jordan Peele’s Creepy Latest Turns a Funhouse Mirror on Us (Published 2019) – The New York Times

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“I’m Jordan Peele. I’m the writer, producer, and director of the movie “Us.’” “There’s a family in our driveway.” “So here we have the scene where the tethered family arrives at the Wilson house for the first time. Jason, of course, says “there’s a family in our driveway.” A line designed, giddily, to attempt to be an iconic line, like “they’re here” from the “Poltergeist” movie and sort of help congeal this sense of an Amblin-esque predicament with a black family in the center of it.” – [heavy breathing] “What?” “Zora, give me your phone.” “I’m not on it.” “Zora!” “This is the point in the movie where I want the terror to really kick into a new gear for the audience. One of the techniques that I utilized to get that terror was that all of a sudden we go into real time. The movie before this has been going from some time dashes here and there. When we get into this moment where the four family members are standing holding hands outside, then we go into this sort of fluid — we use a lot of the Steadicam with very few edits. Really trying to subliminally signal to the audience that this sort of relentless, real time event has begun and is taking place.” “Wait, wait, wait, just one sec — Gabe.” “So we see Gabe leave. He goes out. He’s the dad, he’s got to deal with it. This is kind of like — probably pulled from my own anxieties of being a father and realizing, yeah, you got to man up sometimes.” “Hi. Can I help you?” “One of the things in this scene that really inspired me was the scene in “Halloween” where Michael Myers has the ghost sheet over him. And no matter how many questions he’s asked, he just doesn’t respond. The less response you get, the more impending and physical, I think, the threat gets. Probably after the second time someone doesn’t respond, you know one of you’s got to go down. [laughing] “A’ight, I asked you nice. Now I need y’all to get off my property.” “One of the pieces of this scene that works really well is we’ve got Winston to this spot where he’s code switching. You know, he goes back to some of his roots, as it were, to try and intimidate this mysterious family out there. That maybe if sort of reasoning with them doesn’t work, a good old fashioned low register, throwing some bass into his voice, coming out with a little swagger and a bat might work.” “O.K., let’s call the cops.” “Winston is just remarkable in this scene, and the audience really I think is in this tug of war between feeling the tension ratcheting up and the fear of what’s to come and the little bit of a comic relief of watching this kind of goofy dad who’s in over his head.” “Gabe.” “No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. All right.” “Gabe!” “I got this.”
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Jordan Peele’s new horror movie, “Us,” is an expansive philosophical hall of mirrors. Like his 2017 hit, “Get Out,” this daring fun-until-it’s-not shocker starts from the genre’s central premise that everyday life is a wellspring of terrors. In “Get Out,” a young black man meets a group of white people who buy — at auction — younger, healthier black bodies. What makes “Get Out” so powerful is how Peele marshals a classic tale of unwilling bodily possession into a resonant, unsettling metaphor for the sweep of black and white relations in the United States — the U.S., or us.
“Us” is more ambitious than “Get Out,” and in some ways more unsettling. Once again, Peele is exploring existential terrors and the theme of possession, this time through the eerie form of the monstrous doppelgänger. The figure of the troublesome other — of Jekyll and Hyde, of the conscious and unconscious — ripples through the story of an ordinary family, the Wilsons, stalked by murderous doubles. These shadows look like the Wilsons but are frighteningly different, with fixed stares and guttural, animalistic vocalizations. Dressed in matching red coveralls and wielding large scissors (the better to slice and dice), they are funhouse-mirror visions turned nightmares.
The evil twin is a rich, durable motif, and it winds through “Us” from start to finish, beginning with a flashback to 1986 at a Santa Cruz, Calif., amusement park. There, a young girl (the expressive Madison Curry) and her parents are leisurely wandering the park. The girl is itsy-bitsy (the camera sticks close to her so that everything looms), and she and her parents maintain a chilly, near-geometric distance from one another. She’s clutching a perfect candied apple, a portentous splash of red and a witty emblem both of Halloween and Edenic forbidden fruit. Movies are journeys into knowledge, and what the girl knows is part of the simmering mystery.
The Wilsons, a family of four headed by Adelaide (a dazzling Lupita Nyong’o) and Gabe (Winston Duke), enter many years later, introduced with an aerial sweep of greenery. The bird’s-eye view (or god’s-eye, given the movie’s metaphysical reach) evokes the opener of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” a film Peele references throughout. A true cinephile, Peele scatters “Us” with nods and allusions to old-school 1970s and ’80s movies including “Goonies,” “Jaws,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” (One disturbing scene suggests that he’s also a fan of Michael Haneke.) But “The Shining” — another story of a grotesquely haunted family — serves as his most obvious guiding star, narratively and visually.
[Read about Lupita Nyong’o and her work on the movie.]
Peele likes to mix tones and moods, and as he did in “Get Out,” he uses broad humor both for delay and deflection. There’s a cryptic opener and an equally enigmatic credit sequence, but soon the Wilsons are laughing at their vacation home. It’s a breather that Peele uses for light jokes and intimacy (Duke’s amiable performance provides levity and warmth) while he scatters narrative bread crumbs. There’s a beach trip with another family, this one headed by Kitty (a fantastic Elisabeth Moss) and Josh (Tim Heidecker), who have teenage twin girls (cue “The Shining”). At last, the movie jumps to kinetic life with the appearance of the Wilsons’ doubles, who descend in a brutal home invasion.
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