There is deeper meaning to unpack in Jordan Peele's Us, but it's better to just enjoy | Screen | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

There is deeper meaning to unpack in Jordan Peele's Us, but it's better to just enjoy

click to enlarge There is deeper meaning to unpack in Jordan Peele's Us, but it's better to just enjoy
Industrial Light & Magic/Universal Pictures

What a headache it must have been for Jordan Peele to create Us.

Not only are audiences expecting a film as critically and universally adored as Get Out, they're probably also expecting him to match that film's level of Easter eggery and symbolism. For what seemed like a full calendar year after its release, fans of Get Out pored over every frame looking for clues and hidden metaphors. Why is Chris the only one in blue? Are Rose's stripes a nod to Freddy Kreuger? Why is Stephen Root always a blind guy?

(Don't worry: All Get Out comparison ends here.)

And so it was hardly surprising that within minutes of the Us trailer being released on Christmas day, internet sleuths were back at it, picking apart the two and half minutes for hints of what Peele might be up to this time. What's up with the scissors? Are red coveralls a nod to Michael Myers? Is that Tim Heidecker?

While Us is packed with charming details and understated flourishes that demand multiple viewings to properly digest, the film operates quite well without diving too deep into "what it means." No doubt there's powerful imagery that evokes the feeling that there's something there, but on first watch, it's mostly just an incredibly entertaining, smart, funny, horror film.

That leaves very little to talk about so let's stick with the basics: a lovely family called the Wilsons are on their way to a beach vacation. There's Gabe (Winston Duke having a blast in dorky-dad mode), teenage daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) who mostly rolls her eyes and looks at her phone for the first half, and youngest child Jason (Evan Alex), a peculiar but sweet kid who spends most of his time under a Chewbacca mask. But it's Lupita Nyong'o at front and center as mother Adelaide who steals most scenes alternating between anxious parent and anxious parent pretending to have a good time.

At the film's outset, we see Adelaide as a child at this very same beach, wandering off from her bickering parents and discovering a creepy house of mirrors in which she encounters ... something. Whatever it is, it's enough to send her into an aloof, silent phase and eventually to therapy. 

The next thing we know, it's modern day again and we're vacation-bound in the Wilsons' car, jamming to Luniz' "I Got 5 On It," then hanging at the beach with a masterfully douchy couple played by Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker (keep an eye out for the name of his boat). Adelaide isn't a big fan of the boardwalk, and before long, they head back to the beach house, where the real horror begins: The Wilsons are stalked by four people who resemble them in every way except for their bright red coveralls, ghoulish, vacant faces, and a few accessories. Gabe's doppelganger, if that's what we're calling them, has a wild beard and no glasses; Jason's has subbed out Chewy for a gimp-style leather mask. They have scissors.

And ... that's about all the plot that makes sense to share. Peele, deeply aware of his audience's penchant for picking apart imagery, smartly kept the trailer's scope to a relatively small part of the film.

Peele's work here as writer, producer, and director is about crafting a strong narrative and showing off his remarkable sense of evoking horror imagery out of seemingly innocuous visuals (a bird's eye view of the family walking on hot sand with their late afternoon shadows drawing out, for example). And though expected, the film is also incredibly funny and warm; the family and their actors have an easy, lived-in chemistry that feels affectionate without teetering into Cleaver-territory. That relatability makes it all the more engaging when the shit starts to go down.

So the best advice going into Us is to leave the sleuthing for another day and enjoy it for what it is. Several grumps in the screening I attended grumbled about not being able to grasp the deeper meaning (race? politics? gender?), and since they were so preoccupied by their detective work, they did not enjoy it. But to borrow the Gertrude Stein quote, while there is almost certainly some there there in Us, you can enjoy the film just fine without focusing on it.