***SPOILERS*** Although very limited this blog contains spoilers.
I grew up in the age of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Nightmare on Elm Street, Poltergeist, Halloween and Friday the 13th. I remember when I was a little girl watching Amityville Horror and seeing the blood seep from the walls and going to sleep staring at my bedroom walls hoping and praying no blood started to pour from them. I can recall thoughts of Freddy Krueger entering my dreams after watching the first installment of Nightmare of Elm Street. Any time I heard, “One, Two Freddy’s coming for you…” it would send chills down my spine.
I love a good horror movie. But over time horror movies that shook you to your core shifted and horror was no longer about genuinely being afraid in your movie seat but about blood, guts, and gore. Movies like Saw and Final Destination entered the big screen and horror was now about how grossed out a moviegoer could feel watching characters pull out their teeth, cut off a limp or be killed in some one chance in a million, horrific episode. Gone were the days of true intimate fright.
So, when I saw that Academy Award-winning writer and director, Jordan Peele was coming out with another horror movie entitled, Us, I was overjoyed. Peele shocked the world with his original screenplay, Get Out. Get Out is a genius mix of horror, history, and racism. Get Out was a fantastic display of how racism can be and in fact, is this world’s true horror movie. It is a cleverly written movie that leaves patrons entertained but allows them to reflect on the broader message of racism and historical injustices like the Tuskegee Experiment. Peele has been compared to Alfred Hitchcock in the way that he tells stories, and I was waiting with tiptoed anticipation to see Us.
For months, I watched the trailer for Us online. With a stellar cast led by Academy Award Winner, Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke, this promised to be a thriller like we have never seen before. Especially one led by Black actors. Both Nyong’o and Duke starred in Black Panther another movie that shocked the world. It is as if Hollywood is waking up to the fact that representation matters and people love to see themselves on the big screen. The trailer showed Nyong’o, Duke, Shadhadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex, a family going away for vacation, meeting their sinister doppelgangers. Immediately I was hooked. Who are the doppelgangers and how did they get there? Why are they carrying scissors? Why are all these rabbits hopping around? I had a million questions and could not wait for the release date.
When the debut date finally arrived today, I was one of the first in the theater. I sat down in my seat waiting to be thrilled and scared beyond belief!
Sadly, that did not happen.
The movie started out with the main character Adelaide Wilson (Nyong’o) as a little girl that walks away from her arguing parents and enters a house of mirrors on a beachside boardwalk. In the house of mirrors, she encounters her doppelganger, and the story begins from there. As time passes,we are met with a family that looks just like the Wilson’s only they are the sinister version of themselves. And for the remainder of the movie, we watch as they face off and try to kill each other. That’s it. That’s pretty much the movie. I wish I could offer more commentary, but that is pretty much the movie. There is an alternate world where in this beach community, everyone has a sinister doppelgänger. And…that’s…it. The horror I suppose is for these worlds to somehow intersect and you see, you. Only the version of you that has you worst qualities. The inner me that is your enemy. (Only when you watch the ending that doesn’t seem to be a message of the movie I could cling to.)
I was disappointed in Winston Duke’s character, Gabe Wilson. Duke came on the world’s radar as the character M’Baku, a character in Black Panther that was a fierce defender of the Wakanda Mountains and its old ways. In Black Panther, M’Baku is strong and powerful, and that is the Winston Duke I came to love. Yet in Us, he is weak, unwise and a reflection of a Black man that I do not like to see on the big screen. There is a moment in the movie when Lupita’s character is going to face off with her doppelganger, and the daughter mentions her mom and Duke says something along the lines of, “Your mom has got this.” Why wouldn’t he go defend his wife? Why must a Black woman “have this?” Can a Black woman be rescued in a movie? Can the Black husband ride for his wife? I would have loved to see a characterization of a stronger male lead or at the VERY LEAST a Black man that is fighting alongside his wife. Why does Lupita have to go back and get the keys to the “escape car” alone? Why wouldn’t her husband go with her? This was an opportunity to show Black men who are husbands and fathers as strong, and I believe the movie failed in that aspect.
In fact, I believe this movie failed in many aspects.
I wanted to love this movie. I was prepared to love this movie. I love Jordan Peele, especially as a Black writer. I didn’t want to write this blog. I agonized over writing this blog but I am who I am, and I have to tell MY truth. I know Peele is Hollywood’s Golden Child right now and when one of us makes it, we root for them. And TRUST ME, I AM ROOTING FOR JORDAN!! I expect Peele to write scripts that will leave us on the edge of our seats being horrified, entertained and thinking about real life issues. Us fell flat in those categories. I hated leaving the movie theater thinking, “This just was not it.” My daughter told me, “You should have left Us feeling afraid to look at your reflection in the mirror.” I didn’t. As I walked into the bathroom after the movie, I looked at my reflection in the mirror and washed my hands. I was not afraid. I was not spooked. I didn’t have that feeling that my reflection would turn its back on me or reach out and grab me. There was no lingering fear like I felt watching Nightmare on Elm Street of Halloween years ago. I left the theater thinking, “Perhaps I missed the message. Perhaps I missed the fear.”
Us is a movie that didn’t leave me wanting more, it left me wanting something, anything.
Jordan Peele is rebooting The Twilight Zone series, a series that always left me thinking about and analyzing the world. I believe in his passion, his storytelling and his desire to portray Black actors in scripts that speak the truth. Us missed the mark, for me, but I still believe in Peele and his ability to scare this nation into facing its history and embracing its humanity through the power of phenomenal storytelling.