First Look: Jordan Peele's Us
On Christmas Day, Universal Pictures released the first trailer for Jordan Peele’s new horror film Us. Jordan Peele is the Academy Award-winning writer/director of last year’s breakout horror film Get Out. He somehow found the time to write and direct another horror film while also developing the latest Twilight Zone reboot for CBS All Access and launching an open submission script search for his production company Monkeypaw Productions.
Us stars Academy Award-winner Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke (both standouts in Black Panther) as the parents of a family on vacation. They are confronted by strangers outside their home who seemingly want them dead. These strangers look and act exactly like them, aside from the desire to kill the vacationing family. It’s wild. I’m tempted to put the trailer on my Top 10 Films of 2018 list.
I love the use of “I Got 5 On It” by Luniz in the trailer. We’ve seen the old popular song used and transformed into a horror soundtrack (Insidious made generations terrified of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips”), but I’m struggling to think of a similar treatment with a rap song. Furthermore, the transformation is usually not this clever nor the initial song so integral to a scene. The parents are teaching their younger child about an iconic song and how he can find the beat. The rest of the trailer is clearly scored using slowed down and rerecorded elements of the original song.
Twitter blew up about the song, too. You can find tons of tweets trying to analyze why, for example, Nyong’o’s character tells her son to get on rhythm and then snaps (slightly offbeat) on 1, 2, 3, and 4 instead of just 2 and 4. You don’t groove on the downbeat in rap. Is she actually the mother in this scene? Is she the double? Will the family only be able to tell which mother is the real mother by whether or not the woman they question lacks rhythm? Or is it a mom being just that little bit out of touch to get a laugh out of the audience ala Marge Simpson’s iconic “I’ll krump with you, sweetiepie” scene on The Simpsons? I think I had more fun reading this kind of analysis than I have any other fan theories before.
Anyone who watched enough of Peele’s Comedy Central series with Keegan-Michael Key Key & Peele knows how much Peele loves and appreciates horror. The twisted horror/comedy sketches are among the most memorable in the entire show. They work because Peele is so well-versed in horror that he can pull out references out of nowhere and subvert their original intentions. That’s why this tweet from The Film Stage caught my interest. Peele gave star Lupita Nyong’o a list of 10 horror films to watch before shooting Us.
The 10 films @JordanPeele screened for @Lupita_Nyongo to prepare for #UsMovie: https://t.co/D1LSTyfyob— The Film Stage 📽 (@TheFilmStage) December 23, 2018
A Tale of Two Sisters
Let the Right One In
The Sixth Sense pic.twitter.com/AtiTnKc3Mq
I’m not going to do a deep dive on all the connections between these films. They’re all incredible horror films and you should see all of them. Martyrs is part of the New French Extremity, so please be aware that it does contain extreme gore and sexual violence. Funny Game is also a tough watch, being a nihilistic unrated horror film from Austria.
I will say the 10 films fall into a few different categories. You have horror films about finding out the truth about identity (Dead Again, A Tale of Two Sisters, Martyrs, Let the Right One In). You have horror films about supernatural beings that won’t leave you alone for highly specific reasons (The Shining, The Babadook, It Follows, The Sixth Sense). You have horror films about real beings that won’t leave you alone for no good reason (The Birds, Funny Games). They all deal with family and community, as well. I’d also argue they all deal with self-discovery in times of crises and reevaluating who you love versus who you trust, as well.
Frankly, I’m only stopping myself from going further so I don’t spoil the film for myself. The last time I did that, I wound up hating a Pedro Almodovar film of all things because I hate-watched an indie horror film with a near-identical plot a few weeks before. Yes, the other film was so bad I could not separate it from the far superior The Skin I Live In. I really need to revisit that one now that seven years have passed and I can’t even provide enough information to find proof of the awful indie film’s existence. It was real and real bad.
I digress. The deal with Jordan Peele and references is that they don’t always wind up resembling the original project in tone or subject. Take this experimental spin on The Shining from Key & Peele. Why tell the story of the living when you can focus on why the dead are so active?
Though sometimes the references are far less obtuse, like the other The Shining sketch from Key & Peele. Even then, he riffs on a single aspect or theme of a story instead of focusing on the more iconic images or familiar references. Social standing and relationships almost always play into his horror sketches and clearly defined Get Out, as well.
So, I did pick up on the Funny Games (that bit in front of the fireplace), It Follows (Nyong’o’s voiceover about the rules they figured out), and Let the Right One In (the child’s connection to the strange monster despite warnings from the family) references in the Us trailer before I saw the list. The rest are either not present in the trailer or so singular and specific in their influence that they fly right past you. Like, did one of the other films use scissors? I can’t remember. Are the bunnies used like the birds in The Birds? Possibly. Or it could all be misdirection and totally inconsequential to the plot. Except It Follows. There’s definitely some It Follows’ style human monster shenanigans going on here.
I also know from the Get Out campaign that Jordan Peele likes toying with the audience and not revealing any significant spoilers. The film is not going to hinge on those 10 films even if one could write a hell of a film using those 10 films as inspiration. Something about Nyong’o’s character is going to be present in those films or specific iconography will be recreated (like the Funny Games’ initial tying up sequence). The rest is going to surprise us.
Jordan Peele’s Us is set to be released on 15 March 2019.
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