Get Out was a superb film, in my opinion the best movie of 2017. And from a first-time director, Jordan Peele, previously best known for comedic skits about cunnilingus - I mean, it was just a total home-run. Get Out was a horror movie, and conformed to certain horror tropes. But what was so smart about it was that white people thought they were watching a regular old horror film about a family of weirdos who harvest brains. But the real horror of the film is that it was basically just depicting what it’s like to be a black person in America, the structural racism, the little snubs, the passive aggression, the way people single you out and treat you different. That was the true horror of the film, and it was hiding all along under the veneer of a more traditional scary movie.
Us is Peele’s sophomore film, another horror/social commentary that is a little harder to decipher than Get Out was. The themes and the imagery, and ultimately the message and even the ending of Us are more ambiguous and hard to parse. In fact, I am quite confident that Us is art because five different critics will watch it and all come away with different interpretations. The AV Club wondered if the film was about “our darkest impulses, our forgotten past selves, or some vague combination of the two?.” Vox concluded it was about the self-destruction of America. Slate decided it was impossible to figure out the film’s real message, and that was part of its charm, while others were just happy to speculate about delightfully insane theories that might explain why the film closes on an image of red-suited escaped mental patients forming a Hands Across America chain.
Myself, I think the film is about class moreso than race, as it features a literal underclass of servants, chained to their above ground masters by some unseen link, and compelled to debase themselves for no apparent reason, while the masters enjoy the light, oblivious to the plight of those beneath them - until they rise up. I think that works pretty well as an allegory for American society. It also introduces that classic theme of Russian literature: doppelgangers. Specifically, doppelgangers that want to kill you.
So, you can watch this movie and take-away a number of interesting insights. I did not think that the Doubles had to be explained in as much detail as the film goes into; it would have worked better if that had just been left vague and mysterious. By trying to conquer it with logic, the screenplay kind of exposed the fact that it doesn’t really make sense. Sometimes an explanation is warranted; but sometimes it just creates more problems for the story.
In any event, that is a minor quibble as once again Peele takes these themes - whatever they are - and wraps them up in a very entertaining and well-made horror flick about murderous doppelgangers taking over Santa Cruz. It’s at turns funny, suspenseful, scary and like Get Out features several indelible images (like the family of Doubles silhouetted in the night standing outside the house) that are likely to stick with you. The acting is all-around great, and the film is a pleasure to watch from beginning to end. It doesn’t quite live up to Get Out - but that is an almost impossibly high bar. The fact that the main criticism of this film is that Peele didn’t quite exceed the very high bar he set for himself with his first film is a testament to what a talented filmmaker he is.
I’m looking forward to his next project.