"If victory favors me, I will protect your child with my life."

"I ask you not to worry about that possibility. Because my son and I live on the Demon Way in Hell, we're prepared to descend into Hell through the Six Realms and Four Lives."

Us

If you haven’t seen Jordan Peele’s second movie US and you’re just wondering if I recommend it, the answer is yes. Personally, I loved it. I don’t expect everyone to feel the same, or as strongly.  Not everybody’s gonna be looking for the same things. The record breaking opening weekend proves Peele is still playing to more than just the people who go to lots of horror movies, and it’s hard to know what anyone will demand from the followup to a small horror movie so broadly popular it broke all rules by being nominated for best picture.

I think this is one with all kinds of fascinating things going on beneath the surface, as we now expect from Peele and his “social horror,” but that’s not the primary thing I’m looking for. It also really speaks to me just with its directorial style and the bugged out horror ride it takes us on.

I don’t want to write anything tip-toeing around those things they held back in the marketing. I’m thankful the trailer didn’t give away the whole game. So I’ve written a VERY SPOILERFUL review for after you’ve seen it only. I hope if you haven’t seen it you’ll come back after you have.

I AM SERIOUS, THIS WILL BE NOTHING BUT SPOILERS STACKED ON TOP OF SPOILERS

Recently a couple different people asked me my opinion on some supposed controversy about whether or not Jordan Peele might be “the next John Carpenter.” My answer was wait a minute, what is the comparison? If you gotta diminish Peele’s individuality by putting him into the pre-existing slot of one master of horror, shouldn’t it be the much more social-message-oriented George Romero? Or at least the scholarly Wes Craven? I guess maybe the point of the question is, could he be like any of those guys, a director who continues as sort of a name brand for horror, putting his voice into a bunch of different movies throughout his career?

Well, so far so good. I hope JC is working on his sketch comedy show so he can become the next Jordan Peele.

On first viewing I think I love US even more than GET OUT. I don’t know if its broader, arguably-less-specifically-of-the-moment underpinnings will make it less of a zeitgeist buster, but I think it’s more advanced filmmaking and its genre trappings are more up my particular horror alley. Not that Peele was lacking in confidence the first time around, but here he gives me that “just sit back buddy, you’re in the hands of a master” feel from frame 1. It’s kind of a dream-like premise loaded with possible meanings, but placed in a grounded, relatable world with such lovable characters. And it delivers such a worthy vacation-from-hell movie before spreading like a mold into a worldwide-catastrophre. And (here’s a Romero move for you) in the end the status quo is not restored. It’s weird and creepy and stylish as fuck, from its heightened 1986 flashback to its slow camera moves to its ominous lakeside night time murder spree to its strong use of not-deep-but-great cuts on the soundtrack.

And, wow – outstanding performances by a phenomenal cast of people playing dual roles (even many of the extras!). They have to give natural could-be-your-family performances and also grunting monsters-with-a-weird-physicality performances. I got no idea if it’s always that kid that plays Jason (Evan Alex, one episode of Sesame Street) crawling around like a spider under the Pluto mask, but jesus. And Winston Duke (BLACK PANTHER) does so much with his big-hulking-guy-who’s-really-a-teddy-bear-and-sounds-like-a-nerdy-Jordan-Peele-character-but-deepens-his-voice-when-there’s-trouble.

Best of all, Lupita G.D. Nyong’o going for the knockout playing

1) Cool mom and wife starting to come unglued due to past trauma

2) Fucking nightmare feral lady with bizarre raspy voice punctuated by loud swallowing

3) Pushed-to-the-limit firepoker avenger

4) All the various complicated layers glimpsed beneath each of the above

As I said after the movie: Lupita for best actress, president, Batman, whatever she wants. And man I hope she really ends up doing that remake of THE KILLER with John Woo.

The main grounding factor is this family, who have such distinct personalities and rapport with each other. There are many big laughs in the movie and they’re not at the expense of the horror because they’re mostly just the characters being funny. (Exception: that “Fuck Tha Police” joke.) A great character moment is when Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph, HAIRSPRAY LIVE!) and Jason, who have been bickering throughout the movie, wordlessly agree to go upstairs and try to kill the twins. And Jason pulls down his Halloween mask and Zora gives him this look acknowledging the previously established fact that she thinks he’s a weirdo, but I think maybe she then decides she gets it.

I love the tight-but-detailed style of Peele’s writing. I’m not talking about the fact that he gave all of the Tethered names that we mostly only know from the credits, or the nerdy little details like all the number elevens and the references (a few of which I will discuss below in a section called THE NERDY LITTLE DETAILS, as soon as I’m done with some heavy, unexpectedly personal shit), but the way he casually establishes things that come up again later: the magic trick, the locking closet door, that Zora can run fast, the engine problem on the boat, the veering to the left, that they will hear him if he honks the horn of the boat, Josh having a boat and a flaregun, Josh having a backup generator, Josh having a car that Gabe is jealous of, Adelaide having been a dancer – I’m sure I’m forgetting some. I always dig that sort of narrative clockwork in a movie.

And I love the structure of it. Opening with the classic past incident scene – it establishes the Traumatic Memory that will be important and the Scary Place that must be avoided. Or must be faced.

Then we meet the family and it’s sunny and they’re on vacation, and I feel like I could keep on watching this fun movie even if the scary stuff didn’t start crawling in from the edges, causing trouble.

And then it’s night and they see their duplicate family in the driveway. In many movies, maybe most, this would be the first big confrontation, but they’d get away and we’d go back to normalcy for a bit before trouble starts again. Instead, it turns into a home invasion movie and a chase. Stretches of sustained action until there’s a dead white family times two and they think maybe they can get out of this now.

But then it opens up to a wider scale and things get crazier before Adelaide heads into the Scary Place just like Nancy goes into the nightmare or Stretch goes into Texas Battle Land or Laurie goes back into H20 Private High School to ax fight her evil brother. It’s tradition except there’s dancing and bunnies and I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like this before.

The one thing that I wished could’ve been not spoiled by the trailer was the orchestral version of “I Got 5 On It,” because that would’ve been a goosebump moment when it kicked in. But I get it. It made for such a great trailer, and almost a parody of a style of trailer. They had to do it.

But I’m so happy the advertising only told us about the one family. When the story moved over to the Tyler (Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker) house I was afraid of Red and her family coming to visit. It’s not quite misdirection. He’s got me looking in the right direction, but for the wrong thing.

They were so restrained with what they gave away in marketing that the opening title card about tunnels was almost an UNBREAKABLE level did-not-expect-this. But instead of being a headscratcher it just made us anticipate some kind of secret, literally underground shit going on under everybody’s feet. Thoughts of CHUDs, RAW MEATs, sewer crocodiles, weird underground fuckers.

In contrast to GET OUT, I don’t think US is specifically about race. But Peele still put me into a panic with those few minutes where the nice black family sat in the home of the white family they just beat to death, trying to call the police, acting like this would be easy to explain. And right after we listened to a really good song about how “police think they have the authority to kill a minority.” It was almost a relief to learn that this wasn’t an isolated incident, that there were gangs of doppels causing havoc all over the place. Phew.

So what is US about? I’m sure there are many better interpretations than mine. I just want to talk about what it made me think about from my life. It made me think that I know the guilt of Adelaide and her family, the feeling of having something that others don’t, that maybe I don’t deserve. Of not knowing any way to make it more equal. I mean, we all know it – living in countries that we know have more resources, or more freedom, or more peace than other parts of the world. We know it as people who have somewhere to live, and maybe have jobs, and walk past other people living in tents, or less, or holding signs asking for money that we don’t usually give them, and when we do we wonder how it could be enough, or if it even helps. And we have no choice but to learn to be callous to it, because it’s a suffering that’s everywhere. Even if we could stop and really think deeply about it and cry every time, what good would that do anyone? So we try to give them the right look of support or we’re weak and look away and go on to live our life and don’t think about theirs until the next time we see them.

There’s all that, but I feel the guilt on a more personal level too. My mom grew up middle class, my dad grew up having to shit in an outhouse. There was always a little tension between their families, and other problems I shouldn’t get into that pushed us away from my dad’s side. My dad’s mom died when I was maybe 19, and I remember sitting on some steps after the funeral, talking to a cousin my age. And he laid into me about not really knowing her. I knew it wasn’t in my control, it was between my dad and them, but that didn’t save me. I had the guilt.

Decades later at the funeral of my mom’s dad, after they did a flag ceremony and talked about his days in the army, which he’d never talked to me about, I started to trace things back to fuckin World War II. Both of my grandpas were in the army. My dad’s dad, who I don’t remember, was in combat. My mom’s dad, who I was able to know and love well into this decade, was not. Before enlisting he’d been studying to become a court reporter, and since he knew how to type he was plucked out and made a secretary to some general or something. I’m sure his contribution was important, but he didn’t have to kill anyone. He met my sainted Grandma when she was a candy striper, they had kids and grandkids and retired to square dance and travel in a motor home and he made it to all 50 states and still had decades to relax and get to know the great grand kids. My dad’s dad, from what Dad told me, was mean and angry and embarrassed his kids by writing crazy letters to the local newspaper and made my dad so mad he punched a hole in the wall of his room that was still there when I was a kid.

And I wonder if it was that one accident, the fact that one of them knew how to type at the right time and place, that made the difference. If what one of them went through in battle and the other was spared from largely determined the direction of their lives. Either way, I believe my dad’s urge to get the hell away from that wall with the hole in it put me at an advantage over my cousin, who grew up on the same tract of land as our dads. I think it’s been almost 25 years since I’ve seen him. Less since I’ve seen his mugshot. I’ve cringed at what I’ve read about him in publicly available documents. I’ve been thankful that my life was different.

Shortly before I published my novel Niketown I panicked and did a search-and-replace to change the main character’s name. I’d been writing it for years without thinking how very close it was to my cousin’s full name. There’s no reason to think he would ever know about my writing or want to read it, but I had this fear of him finding it and wondering if it was supposed to be about him, and then realizing that it was worse – the minor parallels were a coincidence, and he’s so far out of my life that I didn’t even think about it. That’s the kind of guilt I carry around about winning the childhood coin toss over him.

I don’t know who or what the Tethered represent to Peele, but that’s some of the things they made me think of. Not anybody that’s gonna come try to kill me, or that I’m gonna beat with a golf club. Which I don’t have. I don’t own one house, let alone two, or a boat or a car, and I don’t have kids. But so far I don’t worry about food or rent, and I’m able to do this thing I love, and I believe I’ve worked hard and sacrificed for the little I have, and I deserve it. But also nobody deserves to be left behind, or to have their fate tethered to the better off, if that’s how it works.

The “monsters” of this movie didn’t do anything, they just had the shitty luck to be the ones who have to live in the tunnels. And maybe their interpretation of Hands Across America is less wholesome than ours. But just watch Kitty Tyler’s double Dahlia put on that lipstick, and consider the joy it gives her. All the things tiny and enormous that Kitty gets and Dahlia doesn’t because that’s just the way it is.

That’s the dilemma. I’m never gonna be some “Gotta Look Out For #1” asshole. But why fool myself that that makes any difference? I don’t know how to give anybody much more than my sympathy, my occasional pocket change, my monthly Red Cross donation. And that’s not worth a raw rabbit on Christmas.

Oh hey, whattaya know, let’s lighten the mood talking about THE NERDY LITTLE DETAILS, right guys?

Okay, I know we all paid attention to those video tapes in the opening shot. Obviously THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS relates to duplicates, C.H.U.D. to humanoid underground dwellers, and THE GOONIES to kids in underground tunnels. I don’t know how THE RIGHT STUFF and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET relate, but I wonder if her dad let her watch Freddy like he did Thriller. (I know there was a hand labelled “Thursday Nites” and I didn’t identify the other one.)

I was really wondering “Jesus, how popular does Peele think Black Flag was” with all the t-shirts on the boardwalk, until I heard the baseball game was tied 11 to 11 and I realized their logo has the four rectangles, like two elevens, like two pairs. Peele loves that type of shit. I love that he loves it as a creepy atmospheric bonus and not the premise, like THE NUMBER 23 or something. I’m sure he does it partly to make people pore over his movies with a magnifying glass, knowing he’d be doing it too. But it also creates this unsettling feeling of unseen, inexplicable, unstoppable forces at work. Like, whatever scientific explanation there is for a bunch of underground clones, understanding it still wouldn’t be enough.

We all noticed the 1111 on the ambulance in the last shot, right? Like fate taunting us. Or bragging.

I gotta get nerdy about the art direction by Cara Brower (HAIL, CAESAR!, Twin Peaks: The Return). I’m a sucker for fictional carnival dark rides. I also like details such as the toilet-paper-wielding crab logo on the Port-a-Potties and the aquatic-themed packaging of the fast food they ate at the beginning. If I’m wrong and those are real I’m a dumbass, but I think they made them up, and much like the weird industrial film in GET OUT (or Big Kahuna Burger and Red Apple Cigarettes in Tarantino’s movies) they help to… you know. Build a world, let’s call it.

LET’S TALK THE ENDING

I love the puzzling nature of the final revelation. It brings up way more questions than answers. Adelaide is the duplicate who came from the tunnels, so according to Red, she must not have a soul? Does that mean we should be scared of her now, like she’s up to something? I prefer to think she made it out, so not having a soul (if that is real) does not seal your doom.

If the clones are tethered to the people they’re duplicates of, shouldn’t Adelaide be the one who’s tethered, with Red controlling her from below? I guess the one who has the higher ground is in control. “And to think, if it weren’t for you I never would’ve danced at all.” If you hadn’t switched with me, the therapist wouldn’t have said to put you in dance lessons, causing me to dance?

I can’t say it was a shock, though – I was wondering from the beginning whether the two had been switched. I was assuming that, actually, or at least that we were supposed to wonder whether they had, after seeing that she wouldn’t talk after she came out of the hall of mirrors. I backed off the idea after the scene where she tells her husband about the childhood incident, thinking she wouldn’t have said that her parents brought her to the boardwalk. Until later when it occurred to me that maybe her underground parents did take her to the boardwalk. Then there was the scene where her son saw her growling animalistically. And when she approached Pluto in front of the burning car like she thought she could communicate with him. And the way she went to the secret passage and down the escalator like she knew it was there.

But the confrontation between her and Red seemed to contradict my theory and I though oh, that’s weird, I guess I was reading too much into it, until I learned otherwise.

My point is this is technically a twist ending, but it still works without surprise or shock. It was still suspenseful and interesting to decode when I guessed it right away.

Even still, I’m sure it will be a whole different experience to see the second time, knowing for sure from the beginning, considering Adelaide’s and Red’s perspectives the whole time. So these are my initial findings.

For now I can suss that US is a MUS’ and worth all the fuss. A+!

This entry was posted on Monday, March 25th, 2019 at 12:51 pm and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

70 Responses to “Us”

  1. This was a good movie that I had a few problems with but ultimately came away respecting and even loving.

    * * * SPOILER WARNING EVEN THOUGH IT SEEMS UNNECESSARY AT THIS POINT* * *

    I really really really appreciated what the twist with Red & Adelaide did for the narrative. We, the audience, start off the movie identifying with this little girl because she is our POV on what’s happening — she is figuratively “Us” — so we are rooting for her to survive. Then at the end when we realize who she really is, it means that we retroactively have to reconsider everything that happened in the narrative. If she’s the little girl we were rooting for, then how do we feel about her failing to reclaim the life that was originally hers? How do we feel about the doppelganger Adelaide strangling her with the handcuffs (the symbol of their tethering)? How do we feel about the fact that the ‘good’ family was doing shit like buying a dumb boat they don’t need while she was down there eating fucking raw rabbit for Christmas? Or the ‘good family’ comparing kill counts like the Tethered are monsters instead of people — Americans! — who have as much of a right to live as they do?

    That narrative trick, coupled with a metaphor elastic enough to reward almost any interpretation of the Tethered, from homeless people to family members from a different social strata, is worth its weight in gold as far as I’m concerned. Those kind of ideas are what makes Peele an artist, so even if he got nothing else right in the movie I would still be for it. And there are tons of other things he gets right — the opening with the boardwalk and the creepy maze are beautifully shot & executed, the performances are great across the board, the dialogue is always clever, etc. etc. But I have to be honest that there are some things in the execution where I thought he stumbled, too. None of them were dealbreakers but they kept it from being perfect.

    My biggest issue was easily the editing. It’s just a little slow in places, like when Lupita goes down into the underground and there are at least thirty seconds worth of redundant shots of her going around corners & down stairways that don’t add information or create more tension, they just kind of fill up time. Same with a lot of the intercutting between the family dealing with their individual doppelgangers when they first separate: there’s a lot of buildup in each scenario, then cutting away somewhere else, before cutting back and then re-building tension. Not a terrible idea in concept but in execution it felt like padding: I was [metaphorically] looking at my watch waiting for stuff to happen, which is especially notable because I saw it opening night with a full theater and should have been riding that energy. Like I said, a little slow in places, not a dealbreaker but it could have easily been tighter and, to my mind, more effective.

    Another issue I had was that it’s pretty quickly revealed that the family is not actually in danger, narrative-wise. Like in the fiction of the movie, ostensibly the Tethered are trying to kill them. But the narrative of the movie gives it away that they’re not going to get killed as soon as you see the little girl escape her doppelganger because the doppelganger kills mustache guy instead. And she kills him immediately, instead of toying with him like she toyed with the girl for ten minutes! Sure, the movie justifies this by giving Red a line to the effect that they want to savor the experience because they’ve anticipated it for so long. But as a viewer you can’t help noticing that the movie is essentially going out of its way to keep the family alive, creating opportunities for them to fight back & escape. And once you understand that, you are just waiting for each family member to have *their* moment of overcoming their doppelganger one-on-one. It puts you in the position of waiting for the movie to catch up to what you’ve anticipated, which adds to the feeling of padding created by the edit.

    Other than those gripes, though, I dug this. Lupita as Red, especially, was Heath-as-the-Joker-level good for me. She took a big swing with that voice and holy cow did it pay off. And the last shot was a fantastic visual capstone to the story, succeeding as a fitting image for any read of the metaphor you care to make. To me it seemed like a giant red faultline running through California, a perfect symbol of a coming earthquake. Excellent.

  2. Loved it. Fucking loved it. I feel like could talk about US for a few hours, but I’d like to be brief here and just highlight how great the directorial work was in the first flashback scene. Most of that scene is just a kid walking around a carnival. But he makes everything seen so deeply from her perspective, the perspective of a lonely little kid, that everything in this seemingly wholesome boardwalk carnival looks so big and alien, and therefore has this aura of deep menace to it.

    Yeah, I also don’t get the Carpenter comparison. I’d rather not compare Peele to anyone right now after only 2 movies. But if you asked me, I’d say he’s more like the next Alan Pakula.

  3. One other thing I want to say about the Tethered. As I mentioned, I loved the elasticity of the metaphor — they could be a stand-in for anything “lesser than” — but I think the read of it that resonates most with me is that they are *literally* “us” — we are the ones eating the raw rabbit while those above us have it better. That reading works no matter what level of social strata you’re at, unless you’re a 1%. (In which case, fuck you.)

    There’s no way I’m not going as a Tethered for Halloween.

  4. ***SPOILERS (DOES THAT EVEN NEED TO BE SAID?)***

    This was great. I’m still processing it. Afterward I told my friend, “Okay. That’s a lot to unpack.” All the actors were just as great as Vern said. Lupita especially outstanding. Elisabeth Moss was so incredible in that little sliver of a moment when she went from silent scream to laughter.

    My take on the deeper meaning (which, honestly there was so much there, I knew it could go so many different ways for everyone) had to do more with an individual struggle with self, rather than two segments of society. I saw it as talking about how as people, Americans even more specifically, we concentrate on our surface – cars, boats, homes, elective surgery, etc. and leave our deeper selves to get pushed down and denied where they are strangled and mutilated and silenced until they become monstrous, but they’re always there, tethered to us, waiting for the chance to self-sabotage. The biggest idea here is mental illness, but also I think it’s just in our race to get the “things” we lose touch with ourselves and what is really important.

    I’m still trying to figure out the twist at the end. I thought maybe it was saying that neither side was the “bad” or “good” side. They’re just different sides to us and they could both do good or bad things depending on which side is nurtured. I dunno. That’s what I’ve got right now.

  5. I love Get Out, but I fucking love US. I must see it again, just so I can see the moment Adelaide remembers who she was. Lupita Nyong’o for everything. I’ve read the boardwalk was the same they used in The Lost Boys, and they even say they are filming a movie down the way, or somesuch. So I like that this is taking place while Joel Schumacher is shooting Jason Patric and the Corey’s, “Cry, little sister” indeed.

  6. SPOILERS, of course.

    I also loved it. I think I wouldn’t have known that Adelaide and Red had switched places, early on, if they hadn’t put that one shot of the one strangling the other in the trailer. And then taken the whole movie to show that one shot, so I knew it was part of the “twist”. So I kind of wish they hadn’t put that in the trailer.

    The movie itself is fascinating. The premise is so bonkers, as with Get Out, but it still draws you in and makes you believe in this world. It’s grounded in those great, well-drawn characters. Even if it doesn’t quite fully work on a logical level, it’s still completely absorbing, and makes sense, somehow, on a metaphorical level.

  7. Great review, Vern. Thanks for the deep dive on how it hit you specifically. I saw this with my older kid this weekend and both really loved it. I agree with all so far, too early to start comparing Peele to anyone, yet. That said, he is part of a generation of filmmakers who wear their cinematic idols on their sleeves. There is a crop of genre filmmakers who love the movies that influenced their childhoods to the point that they find ways to give that love back in the form of story or style homages. Peele’s movies brim with them. Santa Cruz, the setting of Lost Boys, was filming at that very fun park in the 1986 flashback. Their young son Jason was a kid who always wore a mask. Jaws shirt while at the beach, and so on and so on. Unlike some who lean too heavily on the homage (looking at Abrams, here), we also get real novelty. I haven’ seen anything as haunting and beautiful as the dance off/showdown ending of Red and Adelaide. The final showdown with Jason and his doppel was all sorts of “yes!” until you take a moment to think, “oh god, how horrible.” This is stuff that really sticks with me. Can’t wait to see this one again.

  8. SPOILERS
    ****
    ****

    I loved GET OUT, saw it on a sneak preview, and saw this Saturday. I get out to maybe 6 movies a year, and Jordan Peele is an automatic first-weekend appointment. I’m right there rooting for this one.

    There’s a lot to appreciate here, and I’m looking forward to another viewing to let my opinion firm up, but I did not love this. I loved many of the elements, and I liked the whole, but I couldn’t will myself to love the whole. Not yet at least.

    Peele’s strengths are ideas and aesthetics. The score and the soundtrack selections, the casting and the performances, the cinematography and production design are all pitch perfect and richly textured. It’s not just a bunch of cute, show-offy stuff, either; it’s cohesive and layered, and much of it subtle and understated. Peele sweats the details. The film world is like an ecosystem: the parts serve the whole, and the emergent properties of the whole feed back on and enrich the parts.

    If I’m assigning grades and thumbs, this one’s a B+ / thumbs up / see-it. Give Peele all the money, let him keep following his muse. He’s got tremendous gifts, and this film is bolder, weirder, and more worthy of your time and money than anything in the MCU or Star Wars Galaxy or the Dark Universe, etc., etc. Good job, Jordan. Good for you for letting your freak flag and going all in here. I love that.

    I think this film is a few big missteps short of true greatness, and that frustrates me, because it’s so bold and weird, and Peele has so many obvious gifts. But he’s weak here in the pacing and tonal consistency, and he makes a critical miscalculation in attempting to over-explain the mythology of the untethered, through an exposition dump monologue, no less.

    I first hit turbulence when Elisabeth Moss’s family gets their doppleganger visit. I have no doubt that whatever Peele is doing here is intentional, but it’s such a jarring tonal shift that it rapidly descends from creepy to campy. The whole stretch seems labored and superfluous, like the Wilsons have wandered out of a truly horrific film and into a zany zombie comedy here. Would have been great as a little webisode or fun deleted scene, but it does not serve the film as a whole. Not a deal-breaker, but it is jarring, and then it drags out.

    Which brings us to the backstory mythology-splaining. This is what tips it from a straight A to a B+. I gather that the “they” who created the tethered are “the government” (them again. man, they’re the worst). I don’t think it’s ever explicitly stated, but it seems implied. Everything about the tethered works beautifully if left unexplained. If they are an inexplicable vaguely supernatural/metaphysical substratum that breaks out into the real-world, we’re home free. But Peele can’t resist letting Red engage in a jag of unmitigated backstory exposition-speak that has all the persuasiveness of an illuminati conspiracy theory message board. They might as well have brought in the Cigarette Smoking Man to explain it. In so doing, Peele empties the story of a lot of its primal creepiness and opens up the narrative to a host of questions that it can’t — and otherwise would not have needed to — answer. Man, that’s frustrating.

    Maybe a second viewing will smooth over these bumps, because there *is* a lot to love here. That first scene is an all-timer, man.

  9. Okay, with that said: Great review, Vern. I love that about this film — and your reaction to this film. The film is pushing us (get it, us) to introspect. To have empathy for others and ourselves and to also be able to take a sober and searching look at the stories we’ve been told and that we are telling ourselves. Stories about what it means to succeed or be a good person. Stories about what the good life looks like and who’s living it. Stories about the American dream and the “game of life” — its definition of winning and losing, its rules, and whether they are sacred, just, and inviolable. Are the winners smarter? Tougher? Better? Are they deserving? Did they earn their way, and is earning the same as gaming, angling, cheating, or being in the right place at the right time? It’s the same question TRADING PLACES and countless other stories have asked us to ponder. But its particularly poignant and personal as a horror film and in this particular telling of it that Jordan Peele has given us. This is something weirder and harder to dismiss, domesticate, or co-opt. Thanks for giving us your reflections on it. A great example of what I think Peele is hoping this film will inspire.

  10. Watched it and left it really liking it but then it just stayed with me something fierce and me I have to say I absolutely loved it.

    I hope every A24-core filmmaker watches this and starts crying uncontrollably. Peele schooled them harder at their own game so hard, I can’t see any of them coming back from a burn that hard.

    As for the end, I figured from the get go that they switched. I took it as even if she didn’t have a soul, just having the same chances and resources proved that she and the other tethered could also be just as good. Just like the downtrodden in real life our society subjugates and then justify it partially by saying ‘they’d just waste their shot anyway…’

  11. Nice review, man. There’s so much going on in this one, but I just wanted to pop in with a note on the ending. So it does seem weirdly given away at the beginning that there may have been a switcheroo. When she comes back mute, I assume most of the audience is looking for that. But then throughout the movie, you’re comparing ‘our’ Lupita to the jumpsuit Lupita and all the other Tethered and you wind up going, ‘ok, well I guess not. These things are all subhuman, our hero seems mostly normal’ so you rule it out. Then when that final reveal happens, my first reaction is, ‘well, that’s weird that they’re playing it as a twist when it seemed apparent at the beginning, and also how is that the case when the Tethered are subhuman monsters..’ and THAT’S when the central theme of the movie kicks you in the head like a mule.

    You come to assume that these red jumpsuit motherfuckers are evil monsters fundamentally, but what the switcheroo brings home is that everything about these unfortunate folks is a result of their environment. When Tethered Adelaide comes aboveground, she’s able to eventually assume the life of a well-adjusted normal person with all that entails, while Aboveground Adelaide going under warps her and squeezes the voice out of her. It crystallizes this central idea of who we’re willing to extend empathy to and why. The whole movie simulates in the audience the complete cycle of inculcating and then dispelling prejudice. It’s brilliant.

    Also semi-related, I read the thing about who has a soul as it being a shared soul in essence, so maybe the Tethered hope that by killing their counterparts they can gain possession of the shared soul? Also also, jumpsuit Adelaide has ‘regular’ Adelaide totally licked in their final confrontation, to the extent that I read her ultimately getting bested as intentional, she seems to let herself get hit Obi-Wan style, perhaps in the hope of awakening the hero-Adelaide to the truth, or even out of ideological purity, she can’t kill the ‘her’ that at least started life underground.

    Anyway yeah, a lot to mull over here- I, too, see it as mostly about class, but I think there’s a whole essay to be written on the Tethered Adelaide’s assimilation aboveground as a metaphor for code-switching, burnished by the brilliant scenes with Winston Duke gradually playing up his identity as a big black dude in his initial confrontations with the Tethered in the driveway. Everything hinging on her dancing suggested to me what the upper-class and what the lower-class get out of participating in/excelling at art or any other talent. The upper-class person secures their individual place, while the lower-class seeks to speak to/improve the lot of her whole community..is that a reach?

    And what’s everyone think of the rabbits? In some sense they seem to represent the Tethered- caged and ordered in the opening credits, loose and chaotic in the final confrontation. But why rabbits specifically? Because they’re tied in symbolically with resurrection? Because they represent an ugly idea of the underclass- easy game that only continues to exist through excessive breeding? Something else?

  12. One part that really cracked me up was that in 1986 the fun house was called The Shaman and had a stereotype Native American mascot. But in our time they had changed the mascot to Merlin. You don’t want to be offensive when you’re creating a gate to an underclass underworld.

    Amazing amount of surface reality vs undercurrent in here. I especially love the ending. The idea is that the red suits would rise up and overthrow the overworlders. Makes sense. It actually seemed like they were pretty successful in their social revolution, killing tons of overworlders, until they derailed themselves to perform this “hands across America” stunt. The dad is played as a doofus for asking if this was some kind of weird performance art, but that’s a pretty reasonable question. The red suits had the real thing, the real revolution, and instead they diverted themselves into an expression, the surface of a revolution. And it looked like they missed their opportunity. The helicopters at the end suggested to me that the overworlders had regrouped and were deploying their technological advantages. Game over.

  13. GJ, there is the Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole aspect, and then there is the rabbit as the prototypical animal cruelty test subject. Also, they’re just weird and big-eyed. I went down the, wait for it, rabbit hole on this one after watching it, and there’s an interview with Jordan Peele where he also said that rabbits just kind of creep him out.

    Unrelated to that, I think the Tylers (Elisabeth Moss et al.) make sense as a kind of grotesque pinnacle-nadir of the American Dream, and so their absurdist debutante/frat boy douchebaggery underscores the Wilsons’ own spiritual peril. The Wilsons seem to accept the Tylers as friends as worthy of friendship, and Gabe’s boat envy suggests some tug to keep up with these Joneses. The implication is that the Wilsons have lost their way to the degree that they regard the Tylers as worthy company and even worthy of imitation.

    Interesting stuff to chew on there, and I roger for what they bring to the film. But I’m still having a hard time reconciling those characters as-portrayed with the rest of the film. They’re just soooo broad.

  14. Also, what did people make of the strange weather report on TV at the beginning and the storm in the first scene? It seemed like when Red said god made this all happen, it was sort of a reference to this weather event and how it somehow precipitated this. I thought that was cool, the idea that a weird storm brought this shadow out of the underworld. Kind of Frankenstein-ish.

    There’s also something to be said about the adjacency of Peele’s idea of an underworld of mute shadows, and depiction of the land of the dead in the Odyssey and in the Inferno. It’s not perfectly overlapping with them, but there is something almost classical about Peele’s idea.

  15. To those who have a problem with the backstory of the Tethered not “making sense,” let’s not forget that this information is coming from an unreliable source. This is a woman who, as a young girl, was kidnapped and forced to spend her life underground with nobody to talk to. The “government did it” stuff, the “no soul” stuff… how did she get that information? She had a lot of time to think about it but ultimately we have to assume it’s a guess on her part, so I think it’s a mistake to take what she says as gospel. These are ideas coming from a severely damaged 8 year old brain. Of course they don’t make sense, because they’re probably wrong to some extent. I love how the movie gives us that meat to chew on while still leaving open the possibility that she has no idea what she’s talking about. We can make all sorts of assumptions about what’s true or not.

  16. @Phillip I interpreted it as Christian symbolism–a baptism where one figure spirtually dies and another is resurrected (in these case the Tethered and Untethered swapping places and a tethered getting cleansed of underclass life). And it’s also got some psychological significance. Lupita’s father self-absorption and coldness to her by neglecting her leads her to wander off. Rain is also cold and the rain is partly what prompts her to seek shelter inside the funhouse. Once there, she becomes imprisoned inside as her dopple abducts her and switches places with her.

    I enjoyed this one, but I do have some reservations that, atm, are keeping me from outright loving it. @Daniel’s point about how the Wilson’s dopplegangers toy too much with them vs. the other dopples we see is a good one. The same came be said for Red and Adelaide at the end, when Red clearly had her dead to rights multiple times but kept showboating. Obviously, we got some JAWS homage with the boat and the tube, but I wonder if Peele going early Spielberg and just straight offing a kid (not just hateable twins) would’ve had me gripping my chair more throughout my watching.

    And there are some character choices I didn’t quite get. For instance, are we meant to assume that Adelaide stopped the car in front of the burning car and got out because she wanted to communicate with dopple Jason? It was one of the those horror movie protagonists doing stupid decisions that I felt you’ve just gotta roll with that GET OUT, in contrast, did a strong job avoiding for the most part.

    Also some things like Adaleide/Red’s voice make narrative as well as metaphorical sense–Red sounds like she’s choking perhaps because she got literally choked out and dragged down into the Tethered’s tunnel. The scissors are visually nice and a way to cut the tethering, though who knows about how they all got supplied these same scissors. And at the farthest end, explain the rabbits thing to me. I got it as an Alice In Wonderland kind of thing, but I’d think there’s more to it? Obviously, the furtherest end is deep-diving too hard into the logistics of the Tethered and their travel, which I had a chuckle at when I kept encountering those questions and reactions online. Is that people upset at the extent the movie’s social elements target/indict them? Is it a symptom of how moviegoers today expect everything to be world-building and to have continuity? Both?

  17. Brian, For my part, I don’t really need or want the mythology of the tethered and the underworld to be explained, it’s better left mysterious, but once you try, now you’re essentially saying that all of these questions are a legitimate area of focus. You’ve basically put it on the agenda that this mysterious and pretty supernatural seeming happening actually should be explainable as a government science experiment that obeys the laws of some coherent naturalistic physics. It’s not that everything intrinsically requires an explanation, it’s that Peele makes the unforced error signaling to us that we need one and that he has it, slowing the visual/physical momentum so that Red can put on her docent hat and try hamfistedly explaining a world that we would have been perfectly content to leave as some great numinous Lovecraft-meets-Romero-type mystery.

    Daniel,
    Even if Red is not a reliable narrator, Peele has to answer for how the film benefits from his choice to grind the film’s substantial physical-visual momentum to a sudden halt and devote precious third-act screen real estate to an unforced naturalistic conspiracy theory exposition-dump. The Red-Adelaide switcheroo reveal very much serves the story and enriches the film, and it tells by showing. In contrast, the explanation of the tethered underworld backstory–whether reliable or unreliable–raises unnecessary questions and in so doing undercuts the cogency and plausibility of an otherwise fascinating world that could have coasted on pure Jungian creepiness. Peele makes the unforced assumption/concession that he’s obligated to explain this backstory and then does so in a manner that reduces powerfully dreadful symbols (the scissors, the jumpsuits) to plot holes or suspension of disbelief-breakers.

    Typically, if a film gives us an unreliable narrator, it eventually gets around to telling us this, and the reveal proves to be a major plot device in itself (MEMENTO, SHUTTER ISLAND, USUAL SUSPECTS). To assume that Red’s story is unreliable within the logic of the film itself just punts the issue. Reliable or unreliable, what purpose does her narration serve in this film but to distract, confuse, and undercut? If it is unreliable, why are we given no clear indication of this? Is there a more plausible reliable narrative forthcoming, and if not, why have Red signal to us that such questions and their answers should be an area of our collective concern or a fruitful path forward?

    I’d love it if you’re right and if Peele has a greater reveal in mind, but my past experiences with X-FILES, LOST, and Shyamalan are not a great cause for optimism. Once the film’s main antagonist has put the issue of “why and how did this world come to be” very much on the agenda, it’s hard to walk that back or handwave it away.

  18. Skani, I’d agree with your assessment. Both seem plausible. But, as you say, the extent the movie decides to make us focus on those questions for a period only to move along is one of its clunkier parts. It’s sort of an unforced error of drawing extra focus onto what I was seeing as the movie’s macguffin. Maybe that’s part of why I agree that that last monologue Red didn’t quite work (besides also being a bit James Bond villain-y).

    I look forward to rewatching this movie to see how the Red/Adelaide swap strikes me as a viewer the second time around. At least, on first viewing, I wondered what benefit there was to withholding that twist until the final 10-15 minutes vs. doing it much earlier in the narrative.

    One other thing I’ll throw out in the Biblical symbolism lane is how young Adelaide is eating an apple before she goes into the funhouse and is about to experience a real knowledge bomb as well as being yanked out of what seems like, relatively speaking, paradise.

  19. I loved Detective Jane Us and I love your interpretations of both the theme and the mythology itself.

    My SPOILER question is:

    If Addie was already the tethered version when she had kids, wouldn’t her kids be part tether? I suppose only half because her husband was still from above, but that certainly complicates each version of the kids.

  20. Franchise Fred, if you assume there is some sort of genetic or other essential trait passed on, then yes. That seems a questionable interpretive route to take, to me, given the rest of the movie. But perhaps it’s an alternate explanation, besides plot armor, for why the kids and Adelaide get treated less sadistically than how we see the other dopples handle other people, e.g. the camera phone guy or the Tylers, or how Abraham messes up Gabe.

  21. Saw it a second time and one thing that got a lot clearer this time around was that the whole “Tethered don’t have souls” idea is a misreading of what is already just a guess on Red’s part — she doesn’t say they don’t have souls, she says she *thinks* that whoever created the duplicates weren’t able to create separate souls for them, which means one soul becomes split between two bodies. It’s her best explanation for how the Tethered are connected to their counterparts.

  22. Great observations all around. Nyong’o is getting all the buzz, but props to Winston Duke, who excels at playing both lovable goof and menacing as hell. That twisted up scowl his tethered sports is like early Ice Cube walking into a poorly maintained truckstop restroom. That’s a compliment.

  23. Brian, what i like about the fact that they wait for the final reveal is that it gives you maximum time and experience to bond with the main character AND develop are-they-really-the-unqualified-bad-guys ambivalence about the tethered, before really twisting the knife in your confused loyalties and sympathies. Again, this seems to be the major social “agenda,” but it’s even more personal and psychological than it is social. It’s a film about empathy, obliviousness, groupthink, ingroup bias, geographic segregation. But it’s not overtly finger wagging or prescribing solutions so much as it’s challenging us to emotionally involved, self-esteem reflection. Also, creepy bunnies and deranged faces and carnage and subterranean nightmare worlds and zombies and 80s can service.

  24. Sorry, that was supposed to be “self-aware,” not “self-esteem.”

  25. Fucking magnificent epic reviewing, Vern
    Great stuff
    Take a bow, my friend

  26. i consider this sight a safe space so i just need to get this off my chest etc but i didn’t like GET OUT and i really, really didn’t like US. whatever sort of movie magic that Jordan Peele is able to conjure up to enchant most people is absolutely lost on me. i was kind of vaguely intrigued by the setup, and thought there was some really strong filmatism going on with young Adelaide at the beach at night with a storm approaching etc, but pretty much as soon as the present day plot kicked in i lost interest and by the time the home invasion portion of the film rolled around i had checked out completely. i’m not proud of this but i was really, really struggling to stay awake during the final hour or so (sorry everyone).

    I’m not going to bother getting into all of the issues (large and small) that i have with US/Peele’s filmmaking in general because no one wants to hear that shit (myself included) but i do want to talk about something that i literally haven’t seen mentioned anywhere else so here goes –

    (SPOILERS FOR US AND ALSO FOR A MOVIE THAT IS NOT US)

    so, as Vern mentioned, the reveal that Adelaide was actually a duplicate was not a huge surprise as there were plenty of subtle (and not so subtle) hints dropped that this was the case. also it’s almost a cardinal rule of evil twin/doppelgänger movies that there’ll be some uncertainty as to whether the twins have swapped places at some point etc. y’all know how it goes.

    the difference with US is that, for the majority of the film at least, Adelaide seems either unaware or uncertain of her true identity. the revelation at the end that she had been switched out for her clone seems to come as much of a surprise to her as it does the audience.

    jumping back to the hall of mirrors scene at the start of the film – as soon as young Adelaide stumbled upon her clone my brain went “oh. it’s a switcheroo”. but then when present day Adelaide appeared to be “normal” my brain went “oh. she wasn’t switched. or maybe she can’t remember being switched? but that’s the exact same twist from that other doppelgänger movie. there’s no way they would do that.”

    because there’s this little gem of a doppelgänger horror movie called THE BROKEN and, in it, the main character realises at the very end of the film that she is in fact her own duplicate. the twist is really beautifully handled and totally recontextualises the movie you thought you were watching up to that point. it isn’t like the clone twist in MOON where the narrative then branches off from the reveal. THE BROKEN shows its hand and then gets the fuck out. i’d never seen that twist done before, not in that way at least, and was just surprised to see Peele end his film on the same note. no idea at all if he’s even seen THE BROKEN and the whole thing could just be a weird coincidence, but i thought it was worth pointing out as far as possible influences or inspirations go because it’s a pretty big tip of the cap if that’s the case.

  27. [Mix, I want you to know that I legit enjoy your posts and have zero ill-will against you. So the following is not some personal attack on you but if you do get offended, I understand and I’ll deserve whatever repercussions you send my way]

    I love that you love every awful A24-core indy ‘horror’, but then Peele makes TWO movies that those A24 posers insist they are making and you dislike them.

  28. geoffreyjar – when i was a toddler, my dad was running around the house with me on his shoulders and he bolted full speed through a low doorway without ducking. and now here we are.

  29. Didn’t I just see Aquaman do that to a guy?

  30. A24 ORIGINS: MIXALOT

  31. This one reminded me a lot of A Quiet Place: a pretty average story done really, really well. Great direction, fantastic acting, lots of juicy little character nuances that elevate the material above what it really is. I liked it but thought it was very underwhelming compared to Get Out. I also felt like I was missing a lot of the deeper meaning behind it so I have been scouring the internet for the last hour. Which certainly counts for something, right?

  32. Does it matter they switched places? The tethered are evil beings who kill and she tries to save her kids and that makes her the good guy even though it was pretty mean to switch when they were kids.

  33. I think it begs the question to say that they’re evil beings. Though I certainly was struck on my second watch that they all certainly scowl and malevolently smile. But I’d say I sympathize more with them than I did the monsters in C.H.U.D.

  34. Just saw this one again. Rather than polarizing or moderating things, the second watch basically reinforced my original sentiment that it’s solid and innovative but falls short of true greatness the way a film like HEREDITARY does. It’s beautiful, cinematic, and original, but it sags and wanders a bit and ultimately can’t quite deliver on its great setup and lofty ambitions. Very much a breath of fresh air to see this film become a bona fide cultural moment, all the same.

  35. That was ambiguous. HEREDITARY achieve true greatness by managing just the right mix of originality, weirdness, tonal consistency, tight overall construction, and final pay-off. US is a littler clunkier as a whole, but is more fun.

  36. I’d peg US and HEREDITARY at about the same tier. I personally found HEREDITARY more chilling, but US having more nice imagery and symbolic layers (doesn’t mean they all congeal nicely but there’s more ways to read i.) And in both cases, if you want to nitpick, you can effectively kill a lot of the logic in both. Here, obviously the Mr. Majestyk effectively nailed that subject if anybody wants to check out that comment section on this site.

    To me, on rewatch, the clunkiest parts are mostly the things involving Jason, and you can really feel how he has to do a lot of point A to B work with the narrative, and it doesn;’t quite work for me. But he’s also a huge subject for reddit alternative theories, which is fun.

  37. All Hereditary had going for it was the acting, imo. I vastly prefer the weird scifi elements in Us to boring old witches.

  38. Certainly don’t begrudge you your opinion here. HEREDITARY is more staid and less funny but I think it’s better at logically paying off its set ups. But there are scenes in HEREDITARY that are as imaginative, strange, and upsetting as anything in U.S. —more so, I think — and Aster does not need exposition speak construct a highly ambitious conspiracy theory and resolve it inside the running time without so much “keeping you guessing and talking” (aka plot holes). The stakes in HEREDITARY also feel way higher, even though the scope is vastly narrower, because HEREDITARY literally does not take prisoners.

    I enjoy US more, the same way I, brace for impact, enjoy CREED 2 more than 1 from a pure rewatch, crowdpleaser standpoint (guess Zahler and I are dude-bros after all!)

  39. Skani–

    I’m not sure I really get your complaint about explaining/not-explaining the tethered world. To my mind there was virtually no explanation at all. All we get is Red saying “I think the tethered were a failed experiment on how to control people”. Isn’t that about as minimal as you can get? One character speculating about a theory that it seems unlikely she could really know much about or verify? Wouldn’t it be weird if the characters didn’t do this at all and were complacent about this bat-shit weird thing happening?

  40. Oh my. I found Hereditary insufferable. I feel like I went into the film with all this hype about it being a great horror movie, and came out scratching my head. I’ll give Toni Collette props for her acting, but in the end, none of it was very effective. Now, if it had been billed as just a drama movie with supernatural elements maybe my view would be different. Ah, fuck it, it’s just bad.

  41. And to Phillip’s point about explanation vs. no explanation. This is the same argument I’ve been having with a friend, and I feel like I’m just willing to come to conclusions on my own, and not have everything explained ad nauseam. Where as my friend has to have every little thing explained. He hates 2001: A Space Odyssey if that gives you an idea on how far apart we are in just the basic viewing of a film. And I’m not trying to draw a comparison between Peele and Kubrick. Anyway, to each their own.

  42. Phillip, I don’t understand what you mean, exactly, by “complacency” or whether you are saying that it is good that they explain things or that it is good that they did not explain thing. The Wilson parents are foremost interested in survival and protecting their children and, as far as this film is concerned, they have no interest in understanding the world of the tethered. It’s not like they’re Mulder and Scully or something, they’re in shock and just want to escape and survive another day. The only person who does seem at all concerned about the need to explain what the tethered are about is Red, who seems compelled to offer speeches everyone so often. This works okay in her first scene but in my opinion fails disastrously in her subterranean confrontation with Adelaide. Aside from being a complete thud of a pay-off to Adelaide’s suspenseful, slow-build descent into the labyrinth, it serves to put a spotlight on issues of the the tethered social structure and origins. Her attempt to explain things — whether it is the canonical true explanation or just her theory — is completely unnecessary and momentum-screeching, and not only is it unsatisfactory, but it takes a bunch of things we would have gladly ignored and implies that there should be a coherent government conspiracy-type explanation. That’s a huge mistake in terms of the narrative and the pacing.

    I don’t recall very well-constructed horror films like THE SHINING or IT FOLLOWS or CHAINSAW or SIXTH SENSE or HOSTEL or PRINCE OF DARKNESS spending much of their running time philosophizing and navel gazing about where their respective evils come from in some ultimate sense. And when films like HALLOWEEN, PSYCHO, or NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET try to go into their characters’ backstories or motivations — beyond the most basic sketch — these are without fail the most egregious flaws in otherwise perfect films (PSYCHO coda scene, Loomis’s never-ending yammering about how “eeeevil” Michael is). Such screenwriting failures would be downright comical if they weren’t so damned frustrating.

  43. The problem with US is that Peele is working overtime trying to reverse engineer the film to add up to his “this is America…this is the American experience” meta-narrative that he takes the incredible potential of the first 30 or so minutes to make this an intimate and claustrophobic story (that could *still* work as a micro-cosm for AMERICA IN ALL CAPS) and squanders it by trying to turn it into a Romero-esque comedy satire that is ABOUT SOMETHING IN ALL CAPS. A truly great film can let you know it’s ABOUT SOMETHING without bending over backwards to tell you how ABOUT SOMETHING it is.

    This is a good film on sheer aesthetics and ideas, but people are giving Peele way too much of a pass for the tonal, pacing, and exposition-speak elements, which a better filmmaker could have done with far greater subtlety. Actually, I went back and watched GET OUT, and you can see some of the same stuff in the first scene, where Lakeith S is walking down the street trying to find his girlfriend, and he gives us access to his whole inner monologue by telling us aloud I AM AN AFRICAN AMERICAN IN A WHITE SUBURBAN NEIGHBORHOOD AFTER DARK, AND IT’S DANGEROUS FOR ME TO BE OUT HERE, YO, FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVEN’T BEEN FOLLOWING THE NEWS, AND OH, SHOOT THERE’S A FUNNY ACTING CAR, AND I DON’T WANT NO TROUBLE, BECAUSE SEE PREVIOUS COMMENT ABOUT MY BLACKNESS AND THIS NEIGHBORHOOD AND THE AFOREMENTIONED DANGERS. Too on-the-nose Jordan. Don’t insult your audience’s intelligence by over-explaining.

  44. SPOILERS FOR HEREDITARY HERE, SPOILERS FOR HEREDITARY HERE, SPOILERS FOR HEREDITARY HERE, SPOILERS FOR HEREDITARY HERE, SPOILERS FOR HEREDITARY HERE, SPOILERS FOR HEREDITARY HERE, SPOILERS FOR HEREDITARY HERE, SPOILERS FOR HEREDITARY HERE, SPOILERS FOR HEREDITARY HERE, SPOILERS FOR HEREDITARY HERE, SPOILERS FOR HEREDITARY HERE, SPOILERS FOR HEREDITARY HERE, SPOILERS FOR HEREDITARY HERE

    People shitting on HEREDITARY for the most part will be the same people shitting on HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, INNKEEPERS, TREE OF LIFE. It is slow and staid and quiet and plodding and weird. It’s frankly depressing, because the whole family is clinically depressed. It is not fun. But, man, you people (what do you mean “you people,” Skani!?)…we have an immolation, a decapitated pre-teen, ghosts, naked middle aged cultists, a self-decapitation, grandmothers breastfeeding grandchildren, cults, trickery, possession, devil worship, an entire family murdered and defeated by the dark forces of satan, great cinematography and atmosphere, weird-and-fascinating-to-look-at actors and performances, the performance of Toni Collete’s career, weird little creepy models, hexes, seances, real pathos and wrenching human drama about family dynamics, genuine confusion and suspense, and surprise that ultimately is paid off on utterly unflinchingly horrific fashion and with complete internal consistency. But, yeah, I guess it’s just insufferable overrated shit.

  45. “I’m sorry, sir, we aren’t allowed to refund your money for the meal you were dissatisfied with. This random other guy was happy with his, you see.”

    Also, that sounds a lot like the kind of condescending shit a critic would say about a genre movie. “There are enough bludgeonings to satisfy mouth-breathing fans of this kind of material, which I am not, yet I’m 100% certain I know what they want.” You can’t just list off the events in a script and declare that good enough. Execution matters. People who hated HEREDITARY likely hated its execution more than its content. If content and execution were the same thing, DIE HARD and SKYSCRAPER would be indistinguishable from each other.

  46. I’m not sure making generalizations on taste is the way to go here. I loved HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, and TREE OF LIFE. Thought INNKEEPERS was just alright but better than HEREDITARY.

  47. I really really liked US, but will agree with Skani to the extent that its explanation is at once too literal and too abstract and as a result doesn’t quite satisy either path. But it didn’t bother me with this approach to the degree that IT FOLLOWS did.

  48. Majestyk….fuck. I’m not saying shit about mouth breathers, I’m just saying that I can’t understand how people will dismiss this as some pretentious high-brow boring art house shit (Which it is!!!) when it’s also got all this going on. You don’t like it, fine. I’ll just show up to defend HEREDITARY whenever some too-cool-for-school hater shows up to shit on it.

  49. And I’ll gladly make generalizations about taste all day. To deny that people fall into at least fuzzy taste camps is as delusional as it is to suggest that everyone can be reduced to such camps. Of course, I’m not saying there is a perfect laws-of-physics correlation between how much you like HEREDITARY and HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, I’m just ass-tired of people lining up to shit on slow-burn horror with same sneer horror purist condescension and the same shopworn talking points. Next.

  50. I liked that stuff actually happened in Hereditary, and that some of the visuals felt inspired vs just paying homage to older, better films, but I thought it operated more as a cringe comedy (this had to be intentional right?) and it felt like a well-acted take of one of the many ghost/possession movies from the past decade. The mid-film decapitation felt very fresh though, the horror of severely fucking up in life-changing ways was well-depicted in a way I can’t remember seeing before. While I thought it was a good time at the movies, heads and shoulders above other A24 ‘elevated horror’ films like It Follows and The Witch, it still ultimately fluffy and conventional given how hyped up it was.

    US really delivered though – not only does it have visceral thrills, but it’s thematically rich, there’s a lot to pick on in the days after you see it. I that near the end it becomes less scary, but also more interesting. I liked GET OUT okay, but it felt tethered to a straight-forward genre template, basically an update of the 70’s STEPFORD WIVES, which is fine but I didn’t feel compelled to rewatch it. US blew me away. Apart from some more upfront nods to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD when they’re watching TV, it felt like it was exploring some truly fresh, creative ground.

  51. I also enjoyed House of the Devil, and liked The Innkeepers even more. I’m down for some zoner stuff, just want it to be more creative I guess.

    The Swimmer is probably one of the best and most disturbing movies I’ve ever seen though.

  52. Also, at first I wished there was even less of an explanation in US and the twist rubbed me the wrong way, because I thought it made things less scary, and I had identified so much with what the protagonist was going through that I didn’t like the reversal, until it hit me …

    Love that it makes a case for the importance of material conditions in people’s lives, rather than having an inherently evil antagonist. The line between us and them, class issues in general is so arbitrary and unfair and the film does a good job exploring the horror of what you could possibly become if circumstances beyond your control were different. It’s cool that the movie begins with the nightmare horror of encountering your corrupted mirror image, and then gives that explores it further to give it relevant thematic implications

  53. (whoops autofill messed with me, I am both Rymar and Ryan Martin)

  54. My tastes are varied I like a lot of different things. I just didn’t happen to like Hereditary. I wasn’t trying to shit on it. I came to horror late in life, and would never call myself an expert on the genre. Sorry if I ruffled your feathers, Skani, with not liking Hereditary. It takes nothing away from your enjoyment of it though. Maybe insufferable was the wrong adjective, maybe my feeble try at humor and saying “it’s just bad” was too strong. I just didn’t care for it. I do think it was well-made, the filmatism was there, but the whole package wasn’t my cup of tea. I can see your points though.

  55. Oh, you’re fine, that’s my bad. I’m just being a dickheaded curmudgeon and projecting a straw man onto you so I can air some grievances. Sorry.

  56. In the spirit of fight brotherhood, Skani, I will admit that the decapitation and aftermath are great. I don’t think much of the other horror stuff is anything special (it probably works like gangbusters if you’re invested in the story, which I was not) but that part I can’t knock at all.

  57. Thanks, Dude.

  58. I enjoyed this one as an extended big budgeted episode of Tales From The Darkside or Freddy’s Nightmares. I like how Peele broadened his scope with the race element, GET OUT being pointedly Black oppressed themed, to US’s entire continent of America has an oppressed underbelly. Does this mean Trump has a dopple waiting to take over the world, or was he already switched on a visit to Coney Island as a kid? And was Hands Across America his idea in order to build a tethered wall between the States and Mexico?

    And on the empathy thing Vern. It’s funny, last night as I was driving to the cinema wondering if I should watch US or HOTEL MUMBAI, I decided I wasn’t prepared to sit through another gut-wrenching drama of human suffering and loss that HM would have propelled me into. Not because I want to pretend it doesn’t exist, but because I don’t know how much of the world’s sorrow one man can or should carry. There are times where it’s so oppressive it shuts me down, and I just avoid engagement with people from fear of knowing their story, and what effect it will have on me.

    I just thought it was interesting that US made you think about your place in this world, and I can see why it would. Middle class guilt has never been my struggle. I absolutely have more good things in my life right now than I think I deserve or that my past might have predicted I’d have. Maybe I switched places with my own tethered somewhere along the way. Maybe we have always been one and the same. Maybe I should just shut up and get some sleep..

  59. Well, I didn’t love it.

    It’s far too interesting and distinctive to discount, but there was something missing I can’t quite put my finger on. The central metaphor did not feel significantly explored for how OBVIOUSLY SYMBOLIC everything was supposed to be. Like, functionally, not much would change if the doppelgängers had just been regular gangers. Because of the largely mechanical nature of the action, which consists largely of the usual slasher stuff, I didn’t initially feel much resonance in the premise. It’s nostly just running around trying not to get stabbed, which I always love, but it also doesn’t leave much room to feel that frisson of recognition you get when you realize what the story is REALLY about. While watching, I didn’t really think it was about anything. I saw no particular real life analog in this concept. I eventually decided it was a TRADING PLACES thing (A person is only good or evil based on circumstance and setting), but only after the ending (which I predicted st the beginning and then forget about for the rest of the movie, so it was a partial twist). The problem is, most of the movie is spent on generic home invasion/zombie outbreak situations and doesn’t particularly explore anything that interesting about this concept. I don’t see a lot of overlap in personality or behavior between the doubled characters, for instance, which might have made them seem like funhouse mirror images of each other (Tim Heidecker was the exception). They don’t use their insider knowledge of their victim’s most inner self to their advantage or to inflict cruelty, which seemed a waste. The decision to make them all largely interchangeable nonverbal goons seemed to leave a lot of potential for creepy or telling characterization on the table. They could have been evil deads or satanic cult members or whatever and not much, functionally, would have changed. Everybody went all the fuck out on the creep factor, but for some reason they never got below the surface. Their creepiness felt self-conscious. I admired all the mega but it didn’t actually perform its function. I’m thinking “Wow, Elizabeth Moss is really going for it” instead of getting creeped out by the character.

    I think I’m just the wrong fit for the way this premise was presented. It truly does not make any sense, which wouldn’t be a problem if it didn’t TRY to make sense. I spent the whole movie wrestling with the basic how’s and whys and when’s instead of having any kind of visceral experience. I think the mistake was in Red’s opening monologue. It was too specific without actually explaining anything, so I just gnawed at the logistics for most of the movie instead of enjoying the ride. The stalk-and-slash sequences were something I really should have gotten sucked into but instead I’m worrying about how all this works. I’m thinking about the manufacturing process in the sausage factory instead of enjoying the taste of the sausages. Less explanation would have made it more believable. Honestly, I think the sci-fi element was a mistake. I’d buy a magical realism approach but this one didn’t really hold water for me. As a consequence, on a basic level, I just don’t buy this premise, as much as I like the idea. It’s too literal to be poetic and too whimsical to be realistic. This problem meant the movie held me at arm’s length the whole time.

    There’s too much good and weird and unique in here to discount, so it’s not a movie I’m willing to toss out. Hopefully it’ll cohere a bit more on a second watch, but I can’t help but feel that it’s a step down from GET OUT on everything except the level of suspense filmmaking directorial chops. Those improved but otherwise the whole thing is much more nebulous than the razor sharp satire of GET OUT. You saw that movie and everything about it was instantly crystal clear, from the symbolism to the characterizations to the momentum of plot. It was all fully realized. This one had all the ingredients for a great stew but I think it needed to simmer a little longer.

  60. also what are they feeding those rabbits and who’s sweeping up all the rabbit shit they didn’t even have a broom

  61. Yeah, you’ve nailed what doesn’t work about this film for me. In the spirit of generous, Vernian perspective, I think there’s a lot to enjoy and appreciate about this film and its success. At the same time, it is frustrating that it does not fully nail the horror or the suspense. For me, it is surprisingly uninvolving, abstract, and talky at points, as well as tonally uneven, and these flaws for me substantially undercut all the great elements that do work. It undercuts its own intention to scare and inspire dread and squanders momentum. I like it, but I don’t love it.

    See, in addition to our shared 9/9 birthday, what I appreciate and share about how you approach these films is that you are an exacting judge, testing something for impurities by way of identifying areas for improvement. It’s out of tough love for true excellence that you give a film feedback about where it falls short. Like you, I can celebrate the fact that a film is a solid “B,” but then I also feel compelled to highlight what kept it from being an “A.” And when something truly is an “A” (or whatever evaluative continuum/rubric), I’ll be the first to acknowledge and really celebrate that. Part of striving for excellence is being able to call something good or decent if the shoe fits vs. diluting the meaning of excellence and giving certain things a pass. I think Peele falls short on some of his own intentions and sacrifices terror and disquietude for talky symbolism that is too self-conscious about its own symbolism and also a little muddled about it. Pretty good film, excellent intentions, not an excellent film.

  62. I’m trying to figure out how to make this about Hereditary :)

  63. Definitely. Make it the Outlaw Vern equivalent of rick-rolling.

  64. I guess it would be called Head-Rolling or something.

  65. i wonder if it would get so much praise if director wouldn’t have been Jordan Peele. Face the fact, if you’ve seen more than 5 horror movies then it was pretty mediocre

  66. ahv – Yes, it is likely that if it was directed by Joe Blowington III that it would not have received as much attention from the non-horror people. That wouldn’t change that it’s extremely well crafted and original and easily one of my favorite horror movies of recent years, in part for the reasons described in detail above. Since you’re attaching this statement under my rave review of the movie, I guess you believe I haven’t seen many horror movies? Is that really the stance you’re taking?

  67. It starts out well but then overstays its welcome showing a cool half an hour of our protagonists’ everyday not-so-engaging lives – then suspicion started to seep in that MAYBE we’re not in an enjoyable ride.

    It gets back on its feet when antagonists arrive, couple nice ideas are exposed but then it just continues as a C-grade slasher (no original ideas there) and it never recovers – even at the end when Peele probably thought that “oh shit, I better inject some REALLY EPIC explanation in it right now” and then main antagonist just TELLS it to us in like 3 minutes straight. Lazy stuff. And the possibility of existing of this kind of underground society – give me a break man.

    Granted, it has some hilarious moments and soundtrack is a killer, also there are many clues and tips that carry throughout the movie and pay off at the end.

    Main problem could be that one man did everything – wrote, directed and produced and it seems that no one had the nerve to tell Peele that it’s really not working as a whole. But, all the critique doesn’t matter from the business side of this movie – hotshot director and producer who can do almost anything and everyone will come to see it because Jordan Peele is an established brand and brings in the millions. Let’s just hope that he don’t succumb like certain Night Shyamalan and won’t take success as a granted.

    All this hype is reminding me BlackKklansman which was actually pretty weak attempt with protagonist with no real obstacles to climb over and even greater mistake – there were no strong and dangerous antagonist. We can laugh time or two about stupid whities but it doesn’t really carrie the whole movie.

    I really feel that people commenting here may feel peer pressure to have same of opinions as other posters and mainly – opinion of Vern. Now, I really like Vern and his Seagalogy is one of my all time favs which I regularly re-visit every year and I have found countless movies from here to add to my watchlist…but I do not trust almost anyone’s view here. At the same time it’s refreshing to find opposing opinions here but they are clear minority.

    People tend to mix fiction and reality really often here – really glaring examples are movies which deal with racism. It’s not rare sight to see that review and/or comments are loaded with bashing of certain character as he would be real person. And – it’s OK not to like black director’s movie, you’re not racist because of this. Movie’s greatness doesn’t come from director’s race, gender or political views – I don’t give a crap if director is black, white, brown, green, communist, trans or non-binary – just being a minority doesn’t automatically gives him/her/them an advantage to finish movie with lower standards and get granted praise.

    Just give me exciting movie with enough suspense, proactive protagonist, obstacles to cross and DANGEROUS antagonist and we’re done. Get Out, for example, was really good and original, compared to over-hyped Us.

  68. I was really surprised to see Mr Majestyk’s opinion though..well done, man :)

  69. I saved this review until after I saw the film and… wow. One of your finest essays ever, Vern. It’s almost a shame that it’s hidden behind a warning not to read it without seeing the film first, because this review is a work of art unto itself.

    Also, I managed to avoid ALL marketing for this film, outside the poster, so I was knocked completely on my ass at the 30 minute mark. I was sure it was gonna be a home invasion thriller, where no one believes the family until it’s too late. Boy was I wrong. This movie made me feel legitimately terrified in the theater. Totally unsafe. I didn’t know what the rules were. I didn’t know where it was going to go next. And it went SO MANY PLACES.

    My only gripe is the opening info card. I missed that bit – thankfully – but I think seeing the info about the tunnels would have greatly decreased my enjoyment of the film. It lets on that the scope will be bigger. But I’m also a proponent of missing the first 10 minutes of most mainstream genre fare. It turns everything into a mystery and often greatly improves my viewing experience. For example, I walked into BRICK MANSIONS 10 minutes late and, for me, it was a massive plot twist that the movie was set in a scifi future. I know it may seem like blasphemy to suggest skipping the first reel, but I swear, it can be extremely rewarding.

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