Us: the systemic monster approaches
With an ambitious staging and a self-conscious commentary on the genre and its reflection in today's society, Jordan Peele manages to break the curse of the sophomore film with Us: an important piece that questions and deconstructs the cinematographic canon with an authentic horror story afro.
Santa Cruz, 1986. Jordan Peele's second film, Us (2019), opens with a flashback that puts the story in a situation amidst an atmosphere of suspense and intrigue. Adelaide, a little girl, meets her parents at an amusement park. At some point her mother turns around and makes a comment: "They're filming something on the carousel." This, as Peele himself has mentioned, is a direct reference to The Lost Boys (1987), the film by Joel Schumacher in which a group of young vampires - in the best style of eighties glam - represented the greatest danger to the inhabitants of the city. fictional town of Santa Carla. With this subtle but direct wink, Us turns the idea of a danger that threatens from above to present a story in which terror comes from the depths - and from what is hidden within them.
For any fan of horror it is clear that The Lost Boys is not the only film with which Peele establishes a dialogue in this second entry to the genre. Us presents an intelligent game of meta-horror throughout its development, with multiple references to classics that show the interest of the acclaimed African-American director in performing a self-conscious exercise of gender revision. This is a proposal that follows in the footsteps of Get Out, his revolutionary debut that, two years ago, would present an ingenious satire of racism in North American society that proposed a new way of approaching terror from the point of view of Black Horror. With Us, Peele questions the canon to review the places that black characters have historically occupied in films of the genre. And he does it through a story loaded with symbolism that, accompanied by an ambitious staging, presents a subversive criticism inside and outside the cinematographic apparatus.
The premise in Us revolves around an African-American family who, during a summer vacation at their beach house, are confronted by another family that looks exactly like them. Certainly the figure of the doppelgänger is not something unexplored in the horror genre. However, what is truly innovative about Peele's proposal lies in the way it is used here as a narrative tool to address the intersectionality between race and class. The "tethered" in Us represent the Other in all its meanings. But even more, they represent the fear that there is towards that Other, towards difference, towards everything whose identity we do not want to recognize. Likewise, this figure of the doppelgänger acquires here a great importance not only narrative but also visual. One that allows Peele to play over and over with premonitory elements or Easter eggs throughout the film. All this set by the soundtrack of Michael Abels, who in his second collaboration with Peele mixes classic instruments such as violins with the rhythms of the best 90s style hip-hop.
Us is a piece that allows Peele to position himself as the great master of Black Horror today. In his second film, the director mixes the comedy of his film past with the terror that characterizes him today to give life to a criticism that is perhaps less direct than his predecessor, but no less relevant for it. The characters in Us - led by a wonderful Lupita N'yongo - are black protagonists who make smart and quick decisions, who fight against everything that comes their way, and who manage, against all odds, not to die in the first scene . This acquires double importance, insofar as within the genre itself it means another step towards a true representation of the Afro-American population, and outside of terror it also implies an important reflection on our times. Peele has stated that the United States as a country is "a horror show for Afro people." And this statement is not random. The Other is not the monster we face, but the racism that creates that division. And the monster is not just any villain; it is systemic, it is endemic, and it represents the greatest threat we have today.