Arts & Leisure

“Us” paints a scary picture of, well, Us.

LUPITA NYONG’O stars in “Us,” a scary horror movie with a strong sociopolitical subtext.

By Jim Tortolano

I’m not sure that the best way to judge “Us,” the new film by Jordan Peele, is as a Hollywood movie. I think it may well be more important – in the long run – as a movement.

Not having an advanced degree in film criticism, I felt no shame in walking out of the cinema scratching my head a bit and asking myself, “What did I just see?”

If you haven’t seen “Us,” here’s the 50-cent tour. A black family – the father, played by Winston Duke, his wife Adelaide (a brilliant Lupita Nyong’o) and their two children – go on a vacation trip to sun-drenched Santa Cruz. She’s a bit apprehensive, but not for the reasons you might initially guess.

The family isn’t there long before a strange sight appears in the driveway. Four people, dressed in red jumpsuits, silently gripping shears. On closer examination, they look a lot like … them.

Violence, politics, horror, stereotypes, chase scenes tumble one after another. But this being a Jordan Peele movie, this isn’t just a full-color Twilight zone or an up-gunned “Walking Dead” episode.

Racial politics is at the heart of this excellent but often confusing film. The plight of American Indians and African Americans are central to the unfolding story, and the notion that we as a society – noting the clever use of the title “Us” as a stand-in for U.S. – cannot escape the connection to our past or the underclasses, runs through the entire one hour and 56 minutes.

There is some deft comedy here. When the dad asks the Alexa-like device to call the police, what happens instead is that the sound systems plays “F— the Police,” a gangsta rap classic from a generation ago.

Peele’s first film – he writes and directs in this one – “Get Out” was much more accessible and effective as a movie. The real star here is the screenplay. This one may require a doctorate or a lunch with Peele to fully parse.

But as a moving picture that draws a big audience, forces you to really think and which elevates the genre past the “teenager in danger in the creepy old house” is a big step forward regardless of what you decide it’s “really about.”

Will other filmmakers use this inspiration to lead viewers to introspection as it grips their attention so tightly? I hope so. A think a lot of “Us” would like more of this.

“Us” is rated R for violence and scary themes.

 

 

 

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