Jordan Peele’s new horror film Us has just hit theaters and the film certainly has plenty to say while still offering up loads of scares at the same time. What does it all mean though? With so much to unpack members of the 25YL Horror Team (Valerie Thompson, Steve Wandling, D. Aaron Schweighardt, and Will Johnson) assembled for a round-table discussion trying to unpack the many mysteries and surprises behind the film.
Valerie: Ok. Welcome to the Us round-table.
Steve: Welcome, welcome, welcome.
Aaron: Hello. (Waves to the people who are obviously in the same room as me).
Valerie: This is an incredibly layered film that requires more than one viewing.
Steve: This is true. I think he designed it to be seen at least twice.
Valerie: I could easily watch it five times and miss something. It’s a film that is as technical as it is emotional.
Aaron: Most importantly, did everyone catch all the Corey Feldman references? Jordan Peele has said there are three. As long as he and I are on the same wavelength, I think I have them.
Will: Jordan Peele shows no signs of being a rookie when it comes to technical film-making. If you showed someone Get Out and Us and they had no idea it was directed by a new director, they’d be shocked. They are so visually complete and total…no fat, no missing links. And Us is just a visual feast with wonderful homages to so many different types of films while still maintaining one viewpoint.
Steve: Agreed. I think he has a real talent as a technical master far beyond his actual years behind a camera making features.
Will: I’d like to talk about the opening sequence if anyone would like to.
Aaron: Well, I LOVE the ‘80s, so I loved the opening.
Steve: The Corey Feldman references I know about, but I’m not too keen on them. I do know the boardwalk is the same boardwalk where The Lost Boys was shot.
Aaron: That is one of them.
Steve: And I thought maybe the hot poker closeup was a Tommy Jarvis reference, but I didn’t look to see what they were.
Aaron: I didn’t count that one.
Steve: I don’t think it is one.
Aaron: At one point Lupita Nyong’o says “It’s our time up there” which was said by Sean Astin in The Goonies, which also starred Feldman.
Valerie: Who knew Corey Feldman would be the dominating start to our Us round-table? I hear he has a mansion. (That one’s for The Last Drive-In fans).
Steve: That’s probably the least interesting element of this film to me, by the way. I just don’t have much to say about it. I hear he has shunt parties.
Aaron: And during the newscast, someone mentions a theory that “they” came out of the sewers, which I took as a TMNT reference, which Feldman did the voice of one of the Turtles in the movies. I have not confirmed these are in line with Mr. Peele though.
Steve: Yeah he did. I just don’t care about Feldman. Sorry.
Aaron: But speaking of the 80s, back to that opening that Will mentioned…
Will: Yes, but I loved how surreal it was. The way he played with shadows and darkness. I’ve had dreams like the scene where young Lupita (sorry, forget her name) is walking away from the attractions and towards the beach. There is a darkness that is alive behind the corners and the way he plays with shadows was brilliant. It felt very dreamlike…like you can tell there is more detail out there in doorway of the building to the left or under the stairs or behind the couple’s conversation. It is hard to verbalize or put into words but I really felt like I was in a hyper-real trance which, fittingly enough, is how Peele wants the audience to feel in regards to the character who, by film’s end, is not who we think she is.
Steve: So it’s hard for me to care about Feldman Easter eggs…
Aaron: I love the Coreys, apologies.
Steve: Adelaide is Red! Red is Adelaide!! No, I totally agree Will. There’s a dreamlike (or nightmare if you will) quality to both Get Out and Us. Both seem like amped-up, longer Twilight Zone episodes.
Aaron: I just loved the small TV with VHSs surrounding it, playing a Hands Across America ad. And the ‘80s fashion at the carnival. As someone who loves the ‘80s, that’s what I mainly appreciated about the opening myself. Haha.
Steve: This film just had so much to say about eugenics, U.S. experiments on black people, classicism, how guilty is the guilty that doesn’t participate but just unknowingly benefits from a guilty system of oppression, etc. So much to unpack.
Will: Some of the best horror directors who deal with atmosphere, like John Carpenter, breathe life into the background and I felt like, at all times, but especially in the opening, the surroundings had stories going on in places we couldn’t see but, if we turned the corner, we’d find out about. It is really hard to make a set feel alive and Peele pulled it off.
Valerie: This film has a lot to say through and about the ‘80s references as well.
Aaron: I’m going to throw out an unpopular opinion. And one I’m not completely sure of myself.
Will: Yes, Red Letter Media, of all places (haha) pointed out that while Get Out is Peele’s film about race, Us is his film about class.
Steve: I think it’s both. I’ve heard that and it is about class but it’s undeniably about race as well in a different way than Get Out. Goes back to the actual experiments and how in instances like Tuskegee and many other black people in America were experimented on without their consent and dehumanized etc.
Aaron: Sometimes I wonder, particularly with Us, if Jordan Peele is just enjoying how much we’re analyzing his films, when maybe he’s more concerned with making an entertaining horror movie. Like, I think it may be “about” something as simple as the duality of people.
Steve: I think it’s clearly about the duality of people. There’s no one else to fear bigger than yourself.
You are the monster in the dark.
Valerie: Of course, duality is a given. Don’t discount our current political climate as well.
Steve: Your own worst enemy.
Will: I think it is both…he’s clearly an intellectual filmmaker first, but also a fan of the genre. He wants it both ways and has so far delivered it both ways. You can go in with expectations of social commentary or you can go in with a fun time. They function the same and that is even more credit to Peele.
Steve: Absolutely. If he isn’t entertaining he’s just preaching and I didn’t sign up for a ted talk.
Aaron: I will say, I enjoyed Us more than Get Out, even though I also liked Get Out. But I think Get Out was partly a victim of high expectations for me. I also thought it’s satire was more obvious, or too on-the-nose, and it’s humor more out-of-place. I know a lot of people were fans, but I personally didn’t care for the comic relief of the airport security guard. With Us, I thought anything it was trying to say is more subtle or deeper below the surface, and the humor felt more wrapped into the horror.
Steve: Or a sermon. I think Get Out is the tighter film and Us has more ideas. Get Out is my idea of a perfectly executed film. Us was close, but not quite.
Aaron: And Valerie, speaking of the political climate, I did like the scene when someone asks the other Lupita, “who are you?” and she replies, “We’re Americans.” Us I just found to be more entertaining. I honestly could care less about anything Peele is trying to say in EITHER movie, frankly.
Steve: Because there is two America’s. And she’s actually being just honest as well…when you learn more about the characters, but yeah you can’t ignore that aspect of the film.
Will: I agree to disagree Aaron. Get Out is definitely more obvious with its commentary but that, at the same time, is the point. A lot of the issues are staring white America in the face and we (I am a white male American) are not seeing it. Us is definitely a more complex film in terms of subtlety and complete vision, for sure.
Aaron: Meaning, I get more out of the entertainment of his films than his commentary.
Steve: I said I thought Get Out was perfectly executed. I think it’s more entertaining than Us and for the record I do care…Right, without the entertainment it’s just a sermon. I don’t like church.
Aaron: Sorry, I clarified what I meant. Not that I DON’T care, it’s just that I care less.
Steve: No, I get you.
Will: Plus, Peele said these things about his two movies:
“Get Out is a documentary.”
“Us is a horror film.”
Steve: I was just thinking that. I can’t say I don’t agree. I just don’t feel that qualified to talk about the black experience in America.
Will: I think since Get Out deals with race, it is definitely worth thinking and caring about. Since Us is more about class and the internal struggle of “self”, I can see that being a less needful discussion, and thus easier to confine to entertainment only.
Aaron: Well again, what I got out of it was more on the duality of people in general. Our respectable “good” side vs. our more savage, animalistic side.
Steve: Me too. I always go aesthetic over ideology. I don’t like that Peele came out and felt the need to explain it to us.
Valerie: Absolutely Aaron. We all deal with a duality that lives inside of us. The film deals with the idea of who we could have been if certain events go a different way.
Will: Steve, I don’t think he wanted to. He kind of had to.
Steve: I do come from the David Lynch school of go fuck yourself when you’re looking for explanations. I want to think about it and feel and lay with it I don’t want told. Regardless, to rephrase whoever had him do that should be fired. I didn’t read that piece yet, don’t know if I will.
Aaron: And maybe the influence of environment. Both versions of people are obviously shaped by the environment that dwell within.
Steve: I hated when Aronofsky did the same with Mother…just stop! Stop explaining art to people who hate it…Absolutely Aaron. And who is the villain? Is there a villain? I say no.
Aaron: The whole “twist” is predicated on that idea of how our environment shapes “us”.
Steve: Absolutely. Should Red be hated for escaping that hell? Should Adelaide be punished for rising up against her oppressors? I don’t have the answers. I’m much more interested in these questions though and I could never answer them.
Valerie: We would be lacking something if we didn’t speak on Lupita’s performance.
Steve: And Winston Duke! So funny how quick his voice changed when trying to intimidate.
Valerie: She is incredible in this film.
Steve: My god! Is she the Toni Collette of this year? Best performance not even nominated?
Aaron: She is. And something I didn’t notice until my second viewing is that she’s the only “other” that talks, which ALSO clues in to the twist.
Steve: She’s so fucking good it’s absurd. I think she’s outstanding. Her performance is great for sure…she’s playing two different characters obviously but she pulls it off.
Aaron: The others do raptor yells ha!
Will: She is incredible in every film but yeah, she really brings it here. My true test of a great actor is if they play multiple characters in a project and I can’t necessarily tell it is the same actor doing the different roles. I mean, I know LOGICALLY, it is Lupita in both roles but both the characters were so well done that I truly saw them, almost, as different actors.
Steve: Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker as white people in traditional black horror roles was fucking awesome! They nailed it.
Aaron: Would someone PLEASE get Red a glass of water, though?! She’s obviously parched.
Steve: Right right Will. Right right. Total agreement. You know it’s her, that they both are, but you lost yourself in it. Like mom’s spaghetti…lose yourself.
Aaron: Ooo, yes can we talk about that scene? That scene had some of the best humor. With Moss and Heidecker?
Steve: The best use of “Fuck the Police” ever.
Aaron: YES! That was hilarious. I LOVED how they weaved “I Got Five On It” into the soundtrack and score. And when the family comes across the “other” Jason (Pluto in the credits) and he’s snapping his fingers, I couldn’t help but think of West Side Story. “When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way. From your first cigarette to your last dying day!”
Steve: It was a switcharoo on what would normally be a black couple that serve no other purpose then to enhance the lives of the white protagonists. I thought that’s what was going on there, a funny role reversal.
Aaron: I also loved how they used the opening of “Good Vibrations” in that scene. The whole song I don’t love, but I do like that opening.
Steve: Yes! It’s okay. I love “Good Vibrations.”
Will: Also, massive shout-out to Shahadi Wright Joseph as the daughter. She was a perfect teenage girl on the “good side” but her “evil” side was hella scary. I loved the detail that she was so opposite that she laughed when she was born (as opposed to crying) and laughed when she died.
Steve: When I shunt…
Valerie: She was great Will!
Aaron: I liked when the real Elisabeth Moss reaches her hand out to the evil Tim Heidecker, and Tim starts to put his hand out, then swipes it back through his hair.
Steve: Shahadi Wright Joseph was scary as hell with that grin. I would have kicked her straight in her cute little evil face hard. Psyche! And Moss cuts herself open doing the opposite of the “real” one’s constant plastic surgery upkeep…she deconstructs herself instead.
Will: Yes! Such a deep script.
Valerie: Ok. Let’s leave on final thoughts. What was your takeaway from the film? I was most interested to pursue the duality that lives not only inside me but everyone.
Steve: Everyone has that. We never really truly know anyone, there’s always that “other” you that deep down no one else could even begin to comprehend that scares even you sometimes.
Will: Also, survival. We adapt to our environment and find a way to survive and feel the life we’ve built is worth protecting, even if built on lies. We all live in our own communities of “self” and sometimes when we join together, like with Hands across America, we see a more common purpose as well as rights where there are wrongs and vice versa.
Aaron: A lot of funny moments stuck with me: I love when Jason tells his sister to “kiss my anus,” and the father mentions how he’d rather Jason have cursed in that instance. I love when Gabe is trying to sound intimidating to the doppelgänger family when they first arrive, and failing miserably. It makes me feel old when the parents mention Micro Machines and Gabe suggests, “Let’s do some Home Alone shit!”, and the kids respond, “What are Micro Machines?” and “What’s Home Alone?” Though it still made me laugh.
Us is playing in theaters nationwide and you can always catch the horror team right here at 25YL!