Us – a review (should you Get Out and see it?)

    I am not a fan of horror. Never have been. Truth be told I’m a bit of a scaredy-cat. Ever since the opening scene of Christopher Lee’s bloodshot eyes in 1970’s Taste The  Blood Of Dracula and an episode called Man From The South in Roald Dahl’s Tales Of The Unexpected, I have sworn off horror.

   Even for a television lover such as myself, I have not watched even one episode of the critically acclaimed show, American Horror Story. It says horror in the title, no thanks. I have made exceptions a few times.

   Anyone who reads my blogs knows I am a big Joss Whedon fan, if he is connected to a film, series or media of any kind, I’m in. So when I heard he had written a horror film, Cabin In The Woods. I watched it. I’m an adult, I can stomach a horror film. It was enjoyable hokum. 

   Jordan Peele’s Get Out snuck in under the radar. Never really billed as a horror film, it proved to be a runaway hit and a thoroughly entertaining watch. There are some who argue, with some justification, that Get Out is not really a horror film, though it did definitely have horror elements in it. 

    Peele’s latest effort is unmistakably in the horror genre. Us begins in 1986. A title screen tells us that North America is covered by a warren of long forgotten about tunnels. We are at a funfair with ten-year-old Adelaide Thomas (Madison Curry). It’s her birthday and her parents, Russell (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and Rayne (Anna Diop) have taken her to the fair as part of the celebrations. 

    When Rayne goes to the toilets, leaving Russell to watch their daughter, Adelaide goes on walkabout. She ends up in a house of mirrors and sees something that she does not reveal when she is found some fifteen minutes later. 

   The doctors tell her parents that she is suffering from PTSD and that she should be encouraged to express herself through art. Fast forward to the present day and Adelaide  – an excellent Lupita Nyongo’o –  is grown up with a husband, Gabe Wilson (Winston Duke) and two children, a daughter, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and a younger son, Jason (Evan Alex). 

    Gabe tells Adelaide about a trip the family is going to take to Santa Barbara, to see the funfair and go to the beach. Adelaide is understandably reluctant as it was the same place her traumatic event took place many years before. Gabe says that they have been invited by friends, Josh and Kitty Taylor (Tim Heidecker, Elizabeth Moss). Adelaide grudgingly agrees. 

   At the beach, a taciturn Adelaide sits with a chatty Kitty as their husbands sit a little away from them relaxing. The Taylors have twin teenage daughters, Lindsay and Becca (Noelle and Cali Sheldon) who exhibit the nonplussed, disinterest of teenagers. When Jason disappears from sight for awhile having gone to the toilets, it sends Adelaide into a panic. 

   Back at the holiday apartment, she tells Gabe of her youthful trauma and asks to leave. Before they can decide what to do, everything starts to go badly. The lights in the apartment go out – it is a horror film – and when they look out of the window they see four figures standing in the driveway. 

   Adelaide, who had already been on edge and whose uneasy had only increased with the power loss, goes into full-blown panic mode. Gabe, trying to assert some control over the situation, goes out to confront the figures. That goes badly and the shadowy figures attack the apartment and take the family captive.

   The four figures turn out to be their doubles, exact replicas. They are all feral and only Red, Adelaide’s double, is capable of speech. They are all dressed in red jumpsuits and are all armed with large dressmaker’s scissors. Red tells Adelaide to secure herself to the coffee table. Not wanting her family to be harmed, Adelaide complies. Red tells Zora to run and then sends Umbrae, her double, after her.

   Jason’s double, Pluto,  goes with him to another part of the apartment and Gabe is fighting for his life against his doppelgänger, Abraham. When Jason outwits Pluto, Red goes to rescue him and the Wilsons escape. 

    They go to the Taylors apartment. Unfortunately, they find out that they are not the only ones with feral doubles. All the Taylors are dead and the Wilson clan, once again have to fight their way out of an apartment, this time against the Taylors doubles. 

   They take the Taylors SUV and hit the road. They encounter Umbrae, who is still out for blood. There is a brief altercation and she is killed. They keep driving and it is daylight now. They go back to their old apartment and find that their car has been set on fire. Pluto tries to trick them but, once again is outwitted by Jason, this time fatally. 

    Red grabs Jason and disappears into the house of mirrors. Adelaide pursues her and catches up with her. They fight and Adelaide kills and rescues Jason. The family drives to Mexico. 

    Peele’s follow up to Get Out is a classic horror. There are jump scares aplenty, an eerie and disconcerting soundscape and soundtrack, bloodletting galore with stabbing and cutting and the occasional bludgeoning. It covers all gore bases. The protagonist is truly terrifying and, given a little thought, haunting, as they represent every person in North America. 

   Nyongo’o’s star continues to rise and with Us, there is no chance of it waning. She is brilliant in her dual roles. As the only actor required to speak as both protagonist and antagonist, Nyongo’o separates the two characters in a vocal way that gives a nod to the, frankly obvious, twist that happens towards the end of the film. 

   That is not to say that the rest of the cast is poor, far from it. Winston Duke, whose scene-stealing turns as M’Baku in Black Panther brought him to prominence, is great as Gabe, the enthusiastic head of the family. Both Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex are good as the young siblings, with Evan given slightly more to do in his role, thus able to explore the character better. 

   Peele, once again, adds a little visual flair. He is not one for much camera wizardry, trusting the story to do the work of captivating the audience. There is, however, a very nice aerial shot as the family reaches the beach for the first time. The rest of the visual trickery is kept for tension inducing shots and jump scares. 

   Though, as I said in the opening paragraph, I am no fan of horror films and, as such, not wholly qualified to compare them, I do know a good film when I watch one. Us is a good film, it is not great and, in my opinion, not as good as Get Out.

Having said that, it is a much more linear film that Get Out and, at just under two hours in run time, worth a watch. Get out and see it.   

Get Out – review

   Get Out tells the story of young black photographer Chris Washington (David Kaluuya) and his white girlfriend, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) going to the suburbs to meet her parents for the first time as a couple. Chris is, understandably, nervous. Do her parents know that he is black? Rose laughs off his trepidation, pointing to her parents almost embarrassing level of liberalism. Chris is not overly convinced but lets the subject lie. They head to her parents.

  At the parents’ place, Chris’ fears are initially soothed as the are welcoming and almost overly accommodating. Around the large home, it is notable that all the staff are black. Rose’s father, Dean (Bradford Whitford), broaches the subject, explaining that the staff had looked after his elderly father and he could not bear to let them go. Chris accepts the story. It is only when Chris engages with any of the black people that things get odd, with each one seemingly perturbed by his presence. He tries to explain it to Rose, but she cannot comprehend what he means. Unable to articulate his feelings, Chris puts it down to mild paranoia.

   At a family dinner, Chris meets Rose’s brother, Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones). He is a little challenging, egging on Chris to wrestle with him. Missy (Catherine Keener), Rose mother quickly shuts him down. Missy, a psychiatrist, ask about Chris’ smoking. Dean says he use to smoke but after one session with Missy had not smoked since. Chris declines the offer of hypnosis. Dean says to Rose that it is the weekend of the big annual party. Rose says she did not realise. Later, unable to sleep, he goes for a walk around the grounds. Before he leaves, he sees the cook Georgina (Betty Gabriel) talking to herself in the mirror. He quickly exits not wanting to be seen. He is startled by the black groundsman, Walter (Marcus Henderson), running at him, then suddenly detouring at the last moment. Returning to the house he encounters Missy. She begins to chat with him, put him into a trance that feels more like a nightmare. He awakens in bed unsure what has happened but no longer wanting to smoke. The next day he walks around the grounds once more, camera in hand. He observes Georgina acting oddly again but is almost caught snooping as he tries to take a photograph of her.

   The day of the annual party and Chris finds himself something of a celebrity amongst the gathered. Everyone is eager to meet him, some even weirdly sizing him up. Among all the white faces, Chris spots another black person and makes a beeline for them. When he engages with him, the man, Andrew (Lakeith Stanfield), acts as though he is not used to meeting other black people. An extremely perplexed Chris leaves him be. Later on, still confused by Andrew, he tries to covertly take a picture of him. Unfortunately, his phone camera flashes, causing Andrew to freak out, attacking him. Some time later, a much calmer and somewhat different Andrew, apologises for his behaviour.

   Chris tells Rose that he thinks he needs to leave. She agrees to leave with him. As they are packing, Chris discovers a hoard of photographs of Rose with various black men. She had told him he was the first black man she had ever been with. He decides to keep the discovery to himself, hoping to get away from the house. As the family gather around trying to stop him leaving, he desperately screams at Rose for the car keys only to realise too late she is part of the conspiracy. Missy puts him into a trance. He awakens to find himself restrained, an old fifties television facing him. The television springs to life and an older man, who turns out to be Roman Armitage, is talking about a scientific discovery he made. They have worked out a way to overwrite another person’s character, trapping them inside whilst inhabiting their body. Chris realises he has been recruited for this process. He falls into a trance once more and when he awakens to find himself being spoken to by one of the guests he met at the party, a blind art dealer named Jim Hudson (Stephen Root). Hudson says he wants his ‘eye’ and that it is nothing personal. The screen changes again and the image that sends Chris into a trance is back. When Jeremy comes to collect a still Chris, he is assaulted by the possum playing captive and knocked unconscious.

     Chris, now free, proceeds to kill Dean and Missy. As he is about to escape the house, he is jumped on by a now conscious Jeremy. He fights him off and beats him to death. As he is driving away, he hits Georgina with the car, guilt from his own mother’s hit and run death prompt him to gather her up and put her in the car. When Georgina regains consciousness, she freaks out, attacking Chris causing the car to crash and dying in the process. Meanwhile, Rose is in pursuit and shoots at him. Walter catches up with him and as they wrestle, Chris flashes the camera at him. This seems to awaken something in Walter. He takes the gun from an oblivious Rose and shoots her in the gut. He then shoots himself. A dying Rose tries to persuade Chris she still loves him. As he chokes her a police car pulls up. Luckily for Chris, it turned out to be Rod (LilRel Howery). The two men leave.

      Writer/director Jordan Peele has created a clever, witty, sharply observed chiller in Get Out, a film that tackles race issues and race relations, a subject that is always close to the surface in the States. That he decided to use a British actor in Daniel Kaluuya in the role of an African-American is, from a British, black point of view, is particularly relevant in a country where mixed couples, especially black males with white women, is so common that most male black characters in popular television made in the U.K. tend to have white partners.

     Where the fight for racial equality has always been very vociferous and forceful Stateside, with a well documented civil rights movement and historic figures such as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, in the U.K. civil rights and racial equality have always been an afterthought, with such fuss frowned upon in British society. Notably, even as they beg to differ, prominent black figures – entrepreneurs, sportspersons, musicians, actors – are commonplace Stateside. Though the black experience on both sides of the Atlantic has commonalities, in the U.K. black people, especially black men, are still very low on the totem pole when it comes to acceptability.

     The scenario in Get Out, meeting the white parents for the first time, is a well-known one in cities throughout Britain. The awkwardness, over-familiarity, inappropriate questions and scarcity of other persons of colour in social gatherings, are all situations that black men, that have taken white women as partners, have encountered.

     The other elements his screenplay allude to – oppression, slavery, fish-out-of-water, assimilation – are more universal. The entitlement of the affluent, white middle classed, Armitage’s in the film, the fact that, with the exception of Georgina, all the abducted are men, the covetousness of the black male physicality, themes that have been used in many films. The smart thing in Peele’s screenplay is that all of these underlying themes do not detract from the story. They are more like unconscious themes, never mentioned or crassly thrust into the story.

    Peele first effort as a writer/director is extremely accomplished. I look forward to his future outputs.