Us has taken America by storm. March is rapidly becoming the month where people remember that theaters still exist. Ready Player One, Dumbo and US are the recent examples of people heading out to theaters to see films that they’ll see maybe once. However, Us has something big behind it: expectations and a cult of infallibility.
After Get Out arrived, people were quick to crown Jordan Peele as a new Master of Horror. One movie doesn’t make you a master. I loved Get Out, but it was a different beast. One might even try to color it as Science Fiction.
Jordan Peele is a modern auteur. I mean that as the back-handed compliment it has become in recent years. When the studio systems give way to franchises and little creative work, anything outside the realm is viewed as revolutionary. All you have to do is find a way in and just make something for adults.
What audiences got with Get Out was promising, but a bit overhyped. At best, it could’ve been a smarter Dimension Films release from the early 00s. As it is, the cult of Peele can be overwhelming to people who won’t warm up to the idea of minority Masters of Horror. Honestly, there is room. Dickerson gets lonely, but we need people to actually make horror films.
Us as Horror
The Tethered don’t work as horror threats. They work as allegories. It’s the same thing that up-ended a lot of Romero’s later work. No one is scared by a walking, stalking lecture. They’re scared by primal fear.
When you have to build a world to make an analogy about the real world, you’re putting a hat on a hat. Think back to March when Film Twitter and their mob was quick to fawn over the movie. They sunk into the obvious line about the film’s villains being a metaphor for the marginalized.
It’s like Mad Libs anymore, but creatives have to be super vague. Find a cause, make a fake construct and then cast it to the element that is socially friendly at the time. Us had minorities, Midsommar focuses on women and I can’t wait for the impending Trans Werewolf Movie. The Wolf Person is changing into something and you better have the correct pronoun when the full moon hits.
Doppelganger clones created as an ill-defined government means of control doesn’t gel with direct reality metaphor. Well, neither did a lot of movies. But, Romero’s zombies and Craven’s disinterested boomer parents were something basic that you can hang an emotional response. Romero was calling out consumer culture and Craven was addressing the passive crimes of the Reagan era.
There is a good movie hidden in the messy structure of Us. It’s just that the world of the Tethered is another film on its own. When you hear creatives talk about their definitive take on horror and how they would approach a film, their ideas usually never leave the development phase. Why?
Well, that’s because horror is hard to write. Good horror is hard, as the genre has shown that it can invite cheap garbage en masse. When a creator works in horror, they have to engage in multiple elements that must work at all levels. Primal emotional response, tension, communal desire and in a pinch…gore. Regardless of previous James Cameron thoughts on gore…it is the cherry on top of the horror sundae. But, you have to earn that accoutre.
Final thoughts on US
What do you do when you don’t hate or love a film. Especially one that is weighed down by the expectations others thrust upon it? I’ve watched it 3 times between March to now and nothing has recently changed. It’s a messy high concept horror film that fights against itself all the way to the finale.
Given the nature of the narrative, I wouldn’t be surprised if I heard that the film was drastically recut. Not in a gruesome Alan Smithee style manner. But, as a last ditch effort to sell a hard concept to a general audience.
People become invested in things like this on a guttural response level. Elements of that exist here, it’s just sandwiched between an unnecessary opening and the baggage of a government conspiracy. A re-cut of the film which forces you knee deep into the vacationing family’s terror would be a much stronger film. But, it’s not my film to make. I’m onboard for what Peele does next, this one just didn’t do it for me.