Us is scary. Of course it is. Us is a horror film featuring home-invaders who brandish golden scissors; little girls navigating fun house mirrors; and at least one plate full of rabbit entrails. Viewer beware, but also, be encouraged to see Us. It’s as good as the best Shyamalan, Spielberg, Kubrick, or Hitchcock horror flicks – that would be The Sixth Sense, Jaws, The Shining, and Psycho, if you were wondering. Us is that good.
Us is that good, because Jordan Peele is that skilled a filmmaker. He is in control of his film at all times, and his intention is reassuring. You are willing to go along with his horror film, because you sense that it is all for a purpose. There are no cheap jump scares or shockingly violent moments for violence sake (though Us does include jump scares and shockingly violent moments, just not cheap, meaningless ones). Everything feels necessary, part of the whole, sounds in a symphony. That discernible presence of a guiding hand suggests this is all in service of something. If not a message or moral, at least a collection of completed character arcs, a truthful denouement.
With Us, there is the ever-present temptation to make it more than “merely” a well-crafted horror film. Thanks to Get Out, Jordan Peele’s previous film, we’re primed for some sort of social commentary to be the point of Us. Many words have already been written explicating the ways Us is “really about” this or analogous to that. Those sorts of takes aren’t wrong, in the sense that one cannot be “wrong’ about one’s own interpretation of a work of art. Your thoughts and feelings are, indeed, your thoughts and feelings. But we should resist all efforts to reduce Us to a meaning that “must” be embraced by all. Us is too complex for that.
Why do we expect Jordan Peele’s film to be socio-politically piquant? We don’t go to Spielberg’s or Shyamalan’s or Hitchcock’s or Kubrick’s horror films with the same expectation. Jaws, Jurassic Park, War of the Worlds, The Sixth Sense, Signs, Psycho, The Birds, The Shining—all films Us directly references, by the way—we let those films be self-contained. We may search for meaning in them after the fact, but only the most obsessed (and delusional) among us contend that the filmmakers intended us to do so. Rather, we allow them to be “merely” entertaining. We admit that anything we draw from them is really something they are drawing out of us. They are like dreams, which we most wisely reckon the messy rumination of our subconscious concerns, not prophecy.
Us is a vibrant film bursting with sound and color and life. Maybe you want to climb aboard the ferris wheel and talk about what it suggests about classism in America. Maybe you choose to endure the roller coaster of its Jungian and Freudian connections. Perhaps you’d rather play a game of whack-a-mole with its insinuations about race-relations. Or meander a bit and note the ways ancient and not-so-ancient mythologies are its dominant motif. Or simply venture wide-eyed into its horror-cinema soaked haunted house. This is all there, yet none of it is “the point,” just as there is no point to a carnival.
Us is “about” all those things in the same way that those other filmmakers’ films are about the things that interest those filmmakers. Shyamalan is interested in the nature and purpose of fear, so he explores that in all of his films. Spielberg deals in nuclear families and masculine responsibility, so he explores those things in Jaws, Jurassic Park, and War of the Worlds. Kubrick is preoccupied with Freudian psychology, so it bubbles up in The Shining. Hitchcock is a lapsed Catholic, so Catholic ideas of guilt and atonement animate his films including Psycho. But all those films don’t make a point about those things. They’re just the filmmakers’ canvas and character types and narrative fodder. In the same way, Us plays with the things Jordan Peele is interested in.
Love Us for all it is. Resist the temptation to tame it. Be honest about what it evokes in you. Dare to let the shiver Us sends down your spine rattle your soul.