At Z Movies: What Lies In “Us”

Us Poster

Redrum Redux

By Kelly MacConomy

Fasten your seals belts and put those comfy theater recliners in the upright position. The new psychological thriller from Jordan Peele is gonna be a bumpy ride. From the mind that reinvented the horror genre with his 2017 release of Get Out comes Us. The trailer and media teasers alone will give you a terrorizing deja-view of the dark all over again.

This follow-up film to the critical and commercial success of Peele’s directorial debut has nothing to fear regarding a sophomore slump. Us serves up a smorgasbord of scary. Get Out fans and horror flick geeks will revel in the rollercoaster of references to the masters of modern and classic horror. Peele’s film production company is even named Monkeypaw Productions, an homage to Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ most haunting episode.

In Us, a family heads off on vacation to Santa Cruz, the classic California coastal beatnik/hipster, college party town, most famous as the murder capital of the world and a haven of the undead in Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys. There’s a new nightmare in town and things begin to go awry with the arrival of some uninvited houseguests.

Us scores a perfect 100 percent from the aggregate web megacritic Rotten Tomatoes, and that is quite a coup. The film stars Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o as Adelaide Wilson and Winston Duke from last year’s blockbuster Best Picture contender Black Panther as her husband Gabe. Along for the thrill ride is gal pal Kitty Tyler and mother of the twin sisters (Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.) played by award-winning actress Elizabeth Moss of The West Wing, Mad Men and currently The Handmaid’s Tale. As with Get Out, Peele co-produced and wrote the Us screenplay. His eponymous horror-story-USA-revisited doesn’t disappoint.

Hat tips to Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 masterpiece The Shining abound. The overhead shot of the Wilson family haplessly heading toward their beach destination, passing through undulating hills and lodgepole pine forests, alludes to first scenes of The Shining and later the Torrance family’s drive along the Tioga Road in Yosemite, en route to the Overlook Hotel. Nods to Brian De Palma, M. Night Shyamalan, Joel Schumacher, Hitchcock, Kubrick and even Spielberg’s iconic filmography practically demand a drinking game. Leave the popcorn. Take the rum and coke.

Foreshadowing is horror-flick blood sport. Peele is all the more skillfully keen when toying with the plot-twisted mind games. Quoting the Bible, he twice incorporates the passage from Jeremiah: “I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me. I will not listen to them.”

Us may simply be an artfully crafted love letter to Hitchcock and Kubrick among others. Perhaps it is meant to be a metaphor of metaphysical doom, a harbinger of the capsizing turbulent social and political times in which we now live. Chances are Us is both.

Inner demons dominate existential angst, upending dreams and all of psychopathology. The real star of nightmares and horror stories continues to be the unknown. Exploiting the unexpected revelations of introspection fueled the genius of psychological horror/thriller virtuosos such as Hitchcock, Shyamalan and now Peele. The enemy is within and without. The only thing we have to fear is not fear itself. It is us.

Us is rated R for violence, terror and language.

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