This is Us:
Peeling Back the Layers
WARNING: This review contains SPOILERS.
Please do not read or read with caution IF you have not seen the film yet.
There is one thing that is truly undeniable when it comes to Jordan Peele and his filmmaking: His originality. It is so refreshing in a time plagued with endless reboots, remakes, sequels, and homogenized tent pole concepts meant for the masses. It is that originality that gives Peele an endless well of credibility for me as moviegoer. I will go see ANY genre film this man makes, all you have to do is tell me it is a Jordan Peele film, and I am there - trailer unseen. His brand is that strong, and it continues to outshine any flaws that I have seen in his work.
Peele also possesses an immense pop culture intelligence that has afforded him the ability to subversively weave his influences as well as meaningful symbolism throughout the narratives of his films. Like Get Out, a lot that has been baked into the Us cake.
Things that stood out as I watched:
Shiny objects. The dead twin Tyler girls in the upstairs hallway lie in the same positions as the Shining twins! Considering that Jordan Peele was doing press dressed as Jack Torrance, this didn’t feel like a coincidence.
Froot Brutes. While the Wilson family sits around at the home of Kitty & Josh Tyler (Tim Heidecker & Elisabeth Moss), Jason can be seen eating from a bowl of Froot Loops sans milk. Is this meant to be a nod to the psychotically tranquil scene where Rose Armitage enjoys her segregated “white” milk from “colored” Foot Loops? Does this add further evidence to the crazy reddit theory about Jason? What kind of psycho eats dry cereal as they drink milk? Scary stuff.
C.H.U.D is MY bud. I LOVED seeing the C.H.U.D tape among the other VHS on the shelf at the beginning. Not only is it a nod to the subterranean on goings mentioned just before in the opening preamble, but it feels like a little wink from Peele to reassure Horror fans and Genre nuts that they are getting something good. Additionally, I really appreciated seeing the random tape with a written on label - nostalgia city.
All those damn Vampires. Much like the C.H.U.D tape, another one of those winks was using Santa Cruz and its pier as the setting for the story. It too ties into the whole subterranean theme with the cave that David and his coven of Lost Boys hang out in. It is such a magical yet ominous place that laid on a nice layer of dread, especially in the opening flashback. There is even a very brief mention of the filming of some scary movie that Adelaide’s mother tells her father.
Tuned in. The comedic use of NWA’s song Fuck the Police is the perfect button of satire on the eerie juxtaposition of the Beach Boy’s Good Vibrations playing as the Tylers are savagely murdered by the doppelgangers. As I’ve read elsewhere online, it ties into the idea of the police being worthless much like we also saw in Get Out. Peele’s cinematic use of music rivals Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, and Danny Boyle.
Chiller. The Thriller shirt is another tasty visual treat that really make us feel the time period, much like the VHS, and the location of Santa Cruz. Just seeing it made me feel the same feeling I felt watching the Thriller video as a lad and added to that same ominous tone. It felt like it was the template for Peele in the same way that Halloween was the template for the opening of Get Out.
Everything went black. I’ve read online that the golden scissors are clearly a symbolic way of revolt by cutting the “Tether".” In hindsight, this is quite obvious. But at the time while I was watching I could only think of the reversal of the silver spoon - a popular expression for those fortunate to be born into wealth. The golden (or perhaps it is brass) scissor (as well as the red jumpsuits) represent a life of endlessly toiling in a garment or sweatshop.
Nobunny loves you. The Tethered are some sort of failed experiment who (exclusively) eat rabbits - kindred spirits who have always been test subjects in one way or another. Did the cloning start off with experimenting on rabbits? This might explain the rabbit surplus. As I talk about below, it just feels too surreal to be explained in any sort of rational way.
Psycho Killer. There is a really fun theory that Jason is a deadite, there is also a theory that Michael Myers is one of the Tethered. It makes sense. Wow! Such a great idea. It’s as if we have retroactively found mythologies for these slashers! I’m digging it, and with those red jumpsuits they wear, I once again wonder if it is meant to be a tip of the hat in some way.
Revenge. It was really great to see all the Black Flag t shirts! There were 3 in all that in hindsight are pretty self explanatory, it doesn’t get more subversive than that! First we see the My War shirt at the beginning, followed by the classic bars, and lastly, Jealous Again. So perfect. I love this sort of thing - a great lesson for any filmmaker looking to add rich, symbolic detail to their film. Before the band, the Black Flag was a symbol of Anarchy. I am surprised that Peele didn’t use the Damaged album cover as well, it would have fit perfectly with the rest.
Parental Advisory. Peele takes the gilded idealism (like “Just Say No”) of Hands Across America from the 80s and just shreds it in the best way ever by turning this empty benevolent gesture from a bygone era into a malevolent focal point of chaos, anarchy, and carnage. It is deeply linked to whatever trauma was felt by (the real) Adelaide Wilson and really says something about how random things can imprint people during horrific situations and become a symbolistic focal point for them.
I feel confused, but I am not sure if it is in that good way.
There are a few tiny gripes. I have too many questions about story semantics. They just could not be ignored no matter how much I enjoyed the terrifying performances, masterful filmmaking, dark comedic flourishes, and spine tingling suspense.
Normally I want to revel in the mystery. But with Us, I just needed more answers. I don’t know why. When I got out of the screening, it was a bit frustrating and my initial emotions left me feeling unfulfilled, but I realize that it is probably for my own good. Sometimes when it is all on the table, I begin to nitpick and complain about spoon-fed exposition along with the nagging question of “why everything needs to be explained?”
If I had to guess, it could have been this shift in tone from realism, to what seemed supernatural or surrealism, and then followed by another reversal to realism. When we first meet the doppelgangers, I was sure they had to be supernatural in origin. I was a bit shocked (also a tad let down when they weren’t) and that led to too many questions (not always a bad thing). I hate to say it, but the tonal shift feels (to me) a bit too post Sixth Sense “Shyamalanistic” like The Village: A misunderstood film, that should be better seen as a Twilight Zone episode.
I got questions.
Ok, I wasn’t going to dive in, but once I started I could not stop. I am still grappling with the “They” who created the Tethered. Who are they? The Government? Do “They” end up keeping tabs on everyone they have cloned and then pair them up? i.e. The Tyler’s and the Wilson’s Doppelgangers are married to the same people - or is that taken care of through the mental tethering aspect? What about their children? Are they clones? Or did the Tethered conceive those children? Is it possible that they are sterile and the only way they reproduce is to mirror the combinations made above by cloning the children as well? What about the scissors, red jumpsuits, and rabbits? If “They” who created the Tethered happen to be the Government, then these are weird items to include. They feel very surreal and lynchian - elements that do not reflect the scientific/realism of the cloning. I could not reconcile their union.
As the film lingers in my thoughts, I continue to glean what is being said online and my brain mellows a bit on the questions. I also realize that because of the brilliant twist ending, I will need another viewing in order to give the appraisal it deserves. Like any good film with a Sixth Sense level twist, the entire meaning is forever changed when you finish that first viewing. It will never be the same film again.
A sophomoric success.
Overall, Us is a well-rounded sophomoric (sometimes they can be sophoMORONic) home run with some frayed edges. I am stoked for his critical and box official success. We need A THOUSAND more directors like him. Peele must have felt the pressure as he crafted his second film. How do you follow up a movie like Get Out? It can’t be easy. Especially when the hype machine is constantly shouting hyperbole that “we” as an audience hope is true. Is Us a masterpiece out of the gate like Get Out? I don’t think so (although time will tell). Peele is forging a respectable body of work. He is on a path to solidifying a cinematic legacy like Hitchcock and Spielberg, however, if he is not careful he could go full Shyamalan. And as we’ve already learned, you never go full Shyamalan. Can’t wait to see what you do next Mr. Peele!!!