It seems we’re living in the age of the abstract horror film. Increasingly it seems like a rarity that I find myself going to the theater to see a straightforward tale of terror that’s been carefully plotted to engross the audience’s attention and perhaps throw a surprise twist in at the end. Instead it seems like I’m more often than not finding myself watching films that want to leave themselves open to interpretation, wanting to create images and impressions (usually disturbing ones) rather than tell an old fashioned story.
Movies such as Neon Demon, Hereditary, The Witch, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, Personal Shopper, Colossal, and the Suspiria remake all come to mind as examples of this style of movie making. These are films that aim to shock and/or challenge their audiences, not allowing them to sit back and be entertained but instead forcing them to work to find meaning in what they’re seeing. Such films are often social statements, using barbed nightmare-like imagery to convey a sense of greater evil or perversion at the heart of the human experience.
Add now to this list the movie Us by Jordan Peele. For most of its running time Us plays like a typical slasher/home invasion movie with some added creepiness and a somewhat more ethnically diverse cast than is often the norm for these films. We’re introduced to the Wilsons, a family on vacation visiting their friends the Tylers in Santa Cruz, California. On the night of their arrival the Wilsons find themselves attacked in their vacation home, only the attackers are like twisted mirror images of the family members they are attacking. A fight for survival ensues. Then, at the ending, the whole thing goes off the rails with non-sequitur images of rabbits (presumably related to cloning), shots of the protagonist up and down an escalator, and shots of a helicopter thrown together leaving you, the viewer, to interpret the meaning of what you just saw.
Maybe all of this added up to some profound statement that went right over my head, or maybe the director was simply indulging himself in visual experimentation at the expense of story. The problem is that either way, I don’t care. It just didn’t interest me. As a slasher film it just seemed run of the mill, and I don’t care for the sort of abstract arty horror that this eventually turned into.
Like the other films I listed previously it’s well crafted, but I have to ask how many of these movies we really need? I don’t understand why there are so many “horror” films in the style of David Lynch hogging up our theater screens these days and so few in the style of Hitchcock or early John Carpenter. For people like myself, people who like our films to have narrative and not be a series of random images that we have put our own meaning to, movies like Us are yet another exercise in frustration.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Set in present day along the iconic Northern California coastline, Us, from Monkeypaw Productions, stars Oscar® winner Lupita Nyong’o as Adelaide Wilson, a woman returning to her beachside childhood home with her husband, Gabe (Black Panther’s Winston Duke), and their two children (Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex) for an idyllic summer getaway.
Haunted by an unexplainable and unresolved trauma from her past and compounded by a string of eerie coincidences, Adelaide feels her paranoia elevate to high-alert as she grows increasingly certain that something bad is going to befall her family.
After spending a tense beach day with their friends, the Tylers (Emmy winner Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Cali Sheldon, Noelle Sheldon), Adelaide and her family return to their vacation home. When darkness falls, the Wilsons discover the silhouette of four figures holding hands as they stand in the driveway. Us pits an endearing American family against a terrifying and uncanny opponent: doppelgängers of themselves.
Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Anna Diop, Evan Alex, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Madison Curry, Cali Sheldon, Noelle Sheldon
Written and Directed by: Jordan Peele
"Us": More abstract than narrative horror
It seems we’re living in the age of the abstract horror film. Increasingly it seems like a rarity that I find myself going to the theater to see a straightforward tale of terror that’s been carefully plotted to engross the audience’s attention and perhaps throw a surprise twist in at the end.