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.   

Quiet Suppression – We’ll Take That

Back in the mid eighties I and many of my friends, in our mid to late teens, listened to the same music. This was around the time I started going to clubs and meeting people who would become life long friends. One of the commonalities among us was music.

Being black and having attended a predominantly black school, musical leanings were divided between two types; you were either a reggae person – most of the black people, children, I grew up around hailed from Jamaica, pretty much the birthplace of reggae – or you were a soul person. I was a soul person. Michael Jackson, on the brink of superstardom with Off The Wall, Luther Vandross in his fat phase, Stevie Wonder before the lazy, comedic impressions. I had a perm, I danced like I was about to fit and I loved music.

Music was – and still is – a great leveller for a black person growing up. We may not of had much in social status, or many role models, there were no faces to relate to on a regular basis on television – Sir Trevor was a lone, regular, face – and in my part of the world, urban south London, there was no mass expectation of going to ‘uni’ or getting a job that became a progressive career.

This was pre-internet, MTV was in its infancy, phone boxes still existed and vinyl was still the dominant musical format. Music mattered to us. It gave us identity; reggae was and will always be associated with Jamaica, but soul music was black. it embraced all of us, regardless of island origin, we could come together under the umbrella soul of music.

As ever, a lot of black cultural references come from our Stateside cousins. Film, music, fashion, even role models, have ever had blacks enviously looking across the pond. Of course we do not envy their everyday fear of being shot or living in some shitty hovel. We never had to – or our parents – face segregation or sitting at the back of a bus. No, we had any of that to contend with. We were lucky in that regard. Though there is something.

I was listening to Kiss 100 this morning, a commercial radio station that is not dissimilar from any other countrywide, 18-25 demographic driven station. In 1990 I was, as were many of my clubbing friends, at the Kiss fm launch party. The reason we were at the launch party was because we had been supporters of the station and knew many of the deejays that would populate its roster. Kiss was one of the pirate radio station that had helped to promote black music, the music we clubbed to and embraced. We felt like, in some part, it was our station. Fast forward fifteen years and any notion of it being a ‘black’ music station has all but disappeared. It is largely indistinguishable from any other popular music station, pumping largely white produced dance music. So what happened and what does this have to do with anything? The answer to that question is twofold and a little controversial.

Anything that is seen as black and popular, whites have tried to take it away and make it their own. In the States, with such a vocal section of blacks and with their natural inclination as a people, Americans, to highlight an issue, such a thing is not easy to do. Also, such is the number of blacks in America, they can influence at a level that matters; financially. In the UK that is not the case. Anything that is thought as being ‘black’ is not generally viewed as sellable or desirable. Unless it is repackaged as white. This is not a new thing, in fifties and sixties America the excitement initially generated by Elvis Presley was the notion of a white man who could sing ‘black’. Here in the UK the likes of UB40 and Culture Club in the eighties made a fortune singing reggae and ‘black’ music respectively. Jamiroquai also made his fortune adopting a black sound, yet black artist in this country have always struggled to make an impact. As recently as last year, Sam Smith, a soul singing depressive, white kid, garnered award upon award in black music categories, his beautiful ‘soul’ sound embraced by the masses.

Growing up, an insult that would sting any would be clubber was ‘you dance like a white person’. They really could not dance. Not to soul and funk and boogie anyway. Waltzes? Absolutely, but not stuff with a beat.  But as the decades went on and increasing amounts of whites got into soul music, mixed with blacks, clubbed with blacks, they got the beat. Now every talent show features a funky, all white, dance troupe.

There is no field, profession or area where black people are embraced, as leading, within the UK. After over five hundred years of immigration, integration and population, how is that possible? A quiet suppression. The powers that be say: Thank you, I’ll take that!

Rant, Bond Rant.

I do not watch Doctor Who. There are two reasons: 1.) As a child it scared the bejesus out of me and 2.) Idris Elba.
With the recent Sony hacks that have hit the news,  the leaked emails and what not, one story that piqued my interest – the whole North Korean insult debacle is so boring and not at all surprising.  Did they really believe a dictator,  known for his whims and prepared to go to war with his neighbour, would let this slide? That is another blog. – back to my interest peaked.

After Angelina’s death glare,  and various supposedly ‘racist’ missives,  an ‘interesting’ – according to the UK press anyway –  leak has surfaced concerning Idris Elba. Apparently, there are plans afoot to put the sometime Norse world guardian, Luther lead and part-time deejay, in line to be the next and, first black, James Bond.  Hmm.
Here in Blighty,  the more right of centre twitter feeds have gone crazy. A black Bond? Black?! Bond is white! That is one of the more pleasant responses. The others hark back to the sixties and seventies and remind one of the bigotry that still bubbles under the surface of polite,  liberal, British, society.
The character of James Bond was created by Ian Fleming. A British super spy,  beloved by generation after generation,  it has spawned twenty-three films and,  after Fleming’s initial twelve novels,  there have been twenty-five further novels by various authors,  all following the template of the original works. So the character is firmly established. Some might even say a British institution. A white one.
So as a black man,  what is my stance on Idris Elba being a potential Bond? Not that it matters, but I think that he should be white. 100%, Caucasian, British white.  Why?     Because he is.

Unlike the other characters in the agent’s world; M, Moneypenny, Q, that are interchangeable,  as they all have obvious code names, unchanging jobs. James Bond is the character.  There are other agents; other double ohs, but there is only one James Bond.
A tangent: Doctor Who. The BBC program about an intergalactic alien, has, even with the advent of time, always inhabited the form of a middle class, a British white man, since its inception in the early sixties, it has never been challenged over its rigorous adherence to this particular trait.
The reason for this, I believe, is one of the enduring differences between the black experience in the UK and that of those born in the US. It is also the reason why an enduring white character can be spoken of as potentially – on celluloid – becoming black.
Every screen incarnation of James Bond has been created stateside. The films, though they have a considerable amount of UK input, are steeped in American production values.

Slick, bold, showy. These are not typical British flourishes. Doctor Who is British, BBC, through and through. Stagy and received pronunciation. As it ever was.  The US like and ‘do’ change. Mix things up, shake stuff around, it is a strength and a weakness. British do not do change.

When they do it tends to be at a glacial pace. A Doctor Who that is not a man or white, probably will not manifest in my lifetime. Want another example? Modern twist on Sherlock Holmes have been hits both here and in the US. The US version, Elementary, has retained the Sherlock character as a mildly autistic, white male. The Watson character, however, has been updated. Watson is now a Chinese/American, woman.

In the UK the characters have remained resolutely male. Not that this is a problem. The British version is utterly brilliant. It just illustrates the difference between the UK and the US.
Until the UK adopts the same approach to programming, black faces adopting major roles will always be tokenism, creating their own work or relying on the whims of the powers that be.