Some context: I am deeply in love with Winston Duke and consider Lupita Nyong’o to be my third sister. When I first heard that the Yale alumni would be starring in a film together, I was beside myself with excitement. As a passionate #Linston (WinPita just doesn’t roll off the tongue as smoothly) shipper, I imagined the duo in all sorts of plots—well, mostly romantic storylines—that involved a lot of hand-holding and panoramic shots of them staring into each other’s eyes. And kissing. Lots of kissing.
Some more context: I don’t watch scary movies. I have an overactive imagination that will run wild if I allow it to, and after a long bout of insomnia a few years back, peaceful sleep is so precious to me. The scariest film I’ve ever watched was one from the Left Behind series, where I watched a man transform into the Antichrist on an airplane. Needless to say, I am the absolute last person who should have purchased tickets to see this film.
Despite these factors, I still watched Us, because:
- I support black film no matter the genre;
- I love Winston Duke and Lupita Nyong’o with the fire of a thousand suns; and
- I am very, very silly.
The movie opens with a flashback to 1986, the year that the nightmare began. A young Adelaide (Nyong'o) experiences a mysterious trauma at a funhouse on the Santa Cruz boardwalk that, we assume, will affect her for the rest of her life.
Flash forward to the present, where we encounter the fairly normal Wilson family for the first time. Now married, Adelaide and her husband Gabe (Duke) have two children, with whom they're taking a family trip to the beach. A bespectacled and sleeveless Gabe, a true zaddy, sings along to hip-hop duo Luniz’s classic “I Got 5 on It," and Adelaide turns around to teach her son how to stay on beat. Dad jokes are shared, laughs are had—but the fun times pretty much end there.
For the next hour and a half, I watched (through my fingers, mostly) the Wilson family battle their sinister selves, sinking lower and lower into my seat in abject fear. Their shadows, the "Tethered," are out for blood and can't be reasoned with, despite Gabe's best attempts. Without giving too much away, a lot of people die. And the last ten minutes offer up a twist that had the entire theater erupting in a fury of obscenities.
My takeaway is that Jordan Peele is warped. Amazingly talented, but clearly super warped. I walked out of the Magic Johnson theater in Harlem wondering what exactly is going on in his mind to think of stories like Get Out and Us. The funny man from Comedy Central’s Key & Peele seems to have been replaced by an evil genius—his Tether??—who isn’t afraid to take it there. He takes on horror headfirst, injecting the genre with culture-relevant humor and fine details so small that you'll miss them if you look away for even a second.
Like Get Out, the film is a textured and terrifying social commentary of middle America. Through subtle symbolism like the Thriller t-shirt that young Adelaide dons at the carnival, Peele forces us to realize that, even when we were expecting a monstrous Other, sometimes we ourselves are the things that go bump in the night.
Us is the kind of movie that, at some points, has you leaning all the way forward in your seat in nervous anticipation, and at others leaning all the way back as far as possible to prevent yourself from being hacked to death by your doppelgänger through the screen. The ensemble of actors—though Nyong'o is clearly the lead here—are fascinating to watch and impossible to root against; we are desperate for them to survive because there is no other option.
Highlights of this movie include:
- Winston Duke in tortoise-shell glasses and a Howard sweatshirt. What a boyfriend.
- Lupita should and probably will get an Oscar nomination for this film. The contrast between Adelaide and Red was so stark that I could honestly believe that they were two completely different people. And that twisted smile of hers? *shudders*
- Jordan Peele's take on the horror genre is impressive, specifically his turning of the "black people in scary movies always die first" cliché on its head. Writing a horror film centering black people (without also making their race be the cause of the horror) is a fresh angle that Hollywood really needs right now.
Also, personal lows:
- "I Got 5 On It" has been ruined for me forever.
- #Linston only kissed once??
- I had to unfollow Lupita on Instagram because I can't stop seeing her as Red. I'm so sorry, sis, but this is for self-care.
From the moment the movie opened to the moment that the very last credit rolled, I felt chills down my spine. Even as I lay in bed hours later, I imagined that every creak and croak was the sound of a Tethered creeping around my apartment, golden scissors in hand.
I need some holy water.
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