This weekend I once again indulged in the horror sensibilities of Jordan Peele. Like with Get Out two years ago, I needed to see US twice opening weekend with the promise of further viewings. Now with his second directorial effort, it seems that being provoked and enticed by Peele’s nuanced understanding of genre is now part of his cinematic tradition. This is to say that US is not merely the follow up to Get Out but importantly the new Jordan Peele film. He is now in the ranks of auteur filmmakers including Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino. He’s top billing along with his stars.
Recognizing that Us is a Jordan Peele film is the first step to a sound critical appreciation of the film.
Let me explain.
As I walked out of a showing on Friday night, I overheard an audience member asking his companion, “ How are we suppose to understand what just happened?” I wanted to interject and share that to understand the film, is to understand Peele and to understand Peele is to understand genre itself.
The notion of genre is at the heart of Peele’s rise as a filmmaker worth talking about. Peele understands the cultural vibrations of genre filmmaking. This is what made Get Out so very socially astute and equally Us. Genre for Peele is a mechanism in which his “social horror” tales exist both in terms of access and personal criticism. As demonstrated with Us, which is more akin to the aesthetic of horror than Get Out, Peele knows how to work within the genre with a mastery of context and assured style. From use of lighting to camera composition and sound effects, he gives us an audience the horror aesthetic that we understand and know. Its with this that both Get Out and Us are accessible; not high brow art fair but films that easily entertain regardless of demographic. As author, filmmaker and academic Tananarive Due recently noted on Twitter, “US boasted a $70 million opening weekend, a new record for an original film. It’s further evidence that white audiences can see their humanity reflecting in black protagonists too.”
Along with the horror aesthetic, its Peele’s personal voice that resonants through both Get Out and Us. As writer and director, Peele has become an auteur that leverages the history and cultural resonance of the horror genre to enable his personal voice. As such, these are personal films that also allow for rich dialogue and discourse post-screening. To understand Us is to understand Peele.
With all of this, to “understand what just happened,” is to recognize that genre rises from real world context. Specifically, horror’s tradition is very much about us; our individual and / or shared anxieties and overt reflections on culture and experience. This is what made Get Out so rich as a film that rose out of the Black Lives Matters moment, the Trump/Clinton campaign and was equally impacted by the past, present and future as it pertains to race and representation. With this, to understand Us is to reflect on us – our shared selves and more.
Who are we?
What masks do we where?
Is our “real self” real?
Who is terror?
To risk spoiling the film, I won’t go into the scene by scene analysis of the movie that’s truly needed to appreciate Peele’s Us. However, I will say that Peele goes beyond Get Out with this film. It’s not just a film about blackness and representation but all of us – who we are, who we try to be and our shared cultural experiences.
For a fantastic read on the film, please visit Tananarive Due’s essay titled Jordan Peele’s Us: Black Horror Comes Out of the Shadows