By Anna Husted EBS FILM CRITIC
“Us” is fundamentally about greed and the stifling of the shadow self. Writer and director Jordan Peele’s second feature film is not as good as his debut film, “Get Out,” but is arguably more ambitious and just as clever. This thematic ambition creates a murky ending and the violence, which starts about 30 minutes into the film, goes on a little too long. Enough of my qualms with the movie, let’s get into why it’s a good one.
In a traditional review, the second paragraph is reserved for plot summary, but not much can be said about the plot without giving everything away. Let’s just say Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) gets separated from her parents when she is a young girl and experiences post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) well into her adulthood because of this incident that took place at a carnival in a house of mirrors.
Being lost in a hall of mirrors is enough to freak anyone out, but seeing a mirror image of yourself that is not mirroring your actions is even scarier. What Wilson sees is her shadow self. In Carl Jung psychology, the shadow self is the unconscious aspect or the “id.” It is everything in a person that is not fully conscious, but it is possible to tap into, which is what Adelaide finds out and grows up in fear of – knowing the day will come when she must face her shadow again.
Not only is Jungian psychology present, but Peele extricates the world of abuse and PTSD while also commenting on the “complacency of affluence,” according to Filmspotting critic Josh Larson.
On the surface, “Us” shows wealth through glass houses and new boats that all the Wilson’s white friends have at their lake houses. Their friends and neighbors, the Tylers (Elizabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker), talk openly about plastic surgery, their latest vacation and their new Range Rover while expressing complete disinterest in their children’s lives because their two daughters stole their days of youth from them. They are completely unable to contend with their shadow selves because all that matters is status.
Although these themes give us a lot to process and examine, “Us” is also fun entertainment. The patriarch of the Wilson family, Gabe (Winston Duke), prevents his kids from falling too far into despair, quipping about who has the most kills so far in this new scary shadow world.
The soundtrack also plays comically to the violence on screen with one intensely brutal scene backed by N.W.A.’s “F*ck tha Police,” which plays only because Alexa misunderstands Kitty Tyler (Moss) when she tells her to “call the police.” The main theme song, “I Got 5 On It,” by Luniz, plays in one scene for laughs and in another for cinematic soundtrack beauty as it accompanies a strikingly edited climactic scene.
Horror films are great at portraying the return of whatever has been repressed, which makes it the best genre for calling out society for what it has prohibited and what it has allowed. In the film, affluence is shown in a positive light as attainable and acceptable through the protagonists. But Peele’s warning is that greed is also allowed and encouraged by society, which only leads to empowering the shadow self that lies within each of us.
“Us” is now playing in theaters.
Anna Husted has a master’s in film studies from New York University. In Big Sky she can be found up on the hill or at the movies at Lone Peak Cinema. When not gazing at the silver screen or watching her new favorite TV show, she’s skiing, fishing or roughhousing with her cat, Indiana Jones.