United States: the Movie

March 30 , 2019. By Christian Tesfaye( Christian Tesfaye was Fortune’s Op-Ed Editor and currently works as a researcher. He can be reached at christian.tesfaye@addisfortune.net. )


Us is not as subversive a social critique as Get Out was, but it stands as one of the better horror movies to have come out this decade. Christian Tesfaye awards 7 out of 10 stars.


Once in a while, there comes a talented filmmaker that the mainstream becomes infatuated with. For a long time, it was Christopher Nolan, who debuted with the absolutely mystifying and brilliant Memento and gave us over-hyped and overrated movies such as the Dark Knight Rises and Dunkirk as his career progressed.

It is somehow different for Jordan Peele. He was not like Terry Gilliam, who came from the Monty Python comedy group, whose work was objectively creative. Jordan was part of a comedy series, Key & Peele, for Comedy Central, which was, as the British would say, “rubbish”. It was more than a surprise that he wrote and directed Get Out, a social critique and that he kept the momentum going with Us.

His new movie stars Lupita Nyong’o, one of the truly gifted actors of our time, as Adelaide, a married mother of two. She has a history of trauma that she was never able to explain away. After being lost as a child at a beach in a secluded amusement facility, she comes face to face with a person that looks exactly like her.

She survives the ordeal after running away but has to face the trauma once again when her husband insists they go to the beach during a visit to the family beach house. It becomes clear shortly after that she was not hallucinating as a child. Individuals wearing red and wielding scissors, but are otherwise doppelgangers of everyone else alive, begin to terrorise the United States.

Many mentions have been made of the point the film wanted to make. The film’s title, Us, could be an allusion to the US, the nation itself. Adelaide’s doppelganger, when asked who she and her family are, says, “we’re America.”

Of course, Us does not have the clever twist that Get Out has on the very theme of the movie. The latter seemed like a critique of a pretty straightforward issue - the treatment of African Americans in the United States. But the film ends up being about the evolution of race relations in the country and how it is manifested in the progressive elite.

Us does not have that brilliant subversion of a common theme. It is pretty straight forward. There is the United States, depicted in the luxurious, shiny beach house of Adelaide’s family, that we all know. It is wealthy, progressive and a symbol of our civilisation. And then there is the part of the United States that is poor and forgotten, the section of the population that has gotten the short end of the stick in the grand game of capitalism.

Traumatised and dehumanised, the forgotten rise up and take revenge. In the centre are the innocents-of-sorts, the upper middle class who have never felt the suffering of the forgotten, nor have paid much attention to it, and could not for the life of them understand why everybody else is so angry.

This movie is a warning to the top one percent - there will come a time when the poor will get so hungry they will have no choice but to eat the rich. It is a pretty obvious description of a scenario we all know will happen in some form or fashion, but we are unwilling to do anything about it.

Us though delivers on visuals, indispensable to any horror movie, and gives us a movie that is terrifying while at the same time avoiding as many horror clichés as possible. There are no cheap scares, flickering lights or villains coming back to life. The scene where Adelaide’s family first encounters its doppelgangers was especially terrifying.

Us is not as clever a social commentary as Get Out and neither is it as good a horror movie. The plot has too many holes, which could have easily been avoided had Peele resisted the urge to reveal what the doppelgangers are and where they came from. The plot twist in the last minutes of the movie was also as anti-climatic as it was illogical.

But Us, for all its flaws, is one of a number of horror movies elevating the genre. Just when we thought Hollywood could not match 20th-century horror classics - from The Shining to Pyscho - it has managed to terrify us with the likes of Hereditary, It Follows, The Witch and A Quiet Place recently. Time is the best judge of art, but this decade is already proving itself to be the golden age of horror movies.



PUBLISHED ON Mar 30,2019 [ VOL 19 , NO 987]



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