Sunday, March 24, 2019

Shallow Us

Us (2019) - Peele
Jordan Peele's follow up to Get Out is not what I expected. It is still cartoonish in its horror tropes with pop culture references, but it's far more sophisticated than the no justice, no peace poverty porn of the 90s gangsta movies. While the inner city/rural poverty and systematic racism of the powers that be vastly remains in America, it is also true that so called middle class in this country can afford material goods and convenience of the smart phones and cable TV.

Peele, a comedian with his middle class upbringing and films that reflects post-Obama cool nerd sensibility, puts the middle class, African-American Wilson family at the film's center. The film clues you in with the title card in the beginning, saying that there are vast network of underground tunnels in America. It segues into 1986 when MJ still ruled and Hands Across America campaign (one of those celebrity fed kumbaya session to end poverty campaign) adorned the TV tube (if it was We Are the World instead, Us would've been a very different movie).

It's present day. Adelaide (Lupita Nyong'o) and her goofy husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and their two children Zora and Jason start their Summer vacation at their Summer home near Santa Cruz. Adelaide is uneasy about jogging through her childhood memory - she got lost in a Santa Cruz pier in 86', ended up in a haunted house attraction and saw her double in the mirror room. She tells her husband that the experience haunted her whole life and believes her double is still out their to get her. Soon after that, a heavily back-lit family in the manner of Hands Across America style appears at their front yard. And Us becomes a home invasion movie with the doppelgangers trying to kill the Wilsons.

It turns out only Adelaide's double can speak, albeit stuttering, out of breath fashion, telling her that it is a reckoning long in the making. After they manage to get away, they find their friends, more affluent white family, also had been attacked and murdered by their doubles. The spotty TV signal tells that it's a nationwide phenom. This is where Us fails to be more relevant.

Smart and quick witted, Peele knows when he needs to be obvious - title Us also doubles as US, as above so below/mirror image concept, a guy holding Jeremiah 11:11 sign, NWA's Fuck da Police blasts from Alexa like device (Police is 14 minutes away) in a pivotal moment, and when to be subtle - ok, not really. There are clever moments like Adelaide telling her white friends that black people don't have time to do frivolous shit (I forget what the conversation was about), suggesting the larger context that black movies can't afford melodramas because that would be a luxury. Or Gabe impulsively buy a used boat which is named B-yacht'chy. Also liked that Peele didn't overlit his actors, especially Nyong'o whose very dark complexion gives her more time to act with her expressive eyes.

But I don't believe allegory and horror genre are enough to tell the whole story of racial AND economic injustice in this country. And I don't think whatever the elevation the genre has been garnering as high art, it can't express the corruption of humanity by capitalism wholely.

I always thought if there was a shake up in social order in this country, it would be borne out of the racial injustices, not the economic one. Have we passed that stage of overcoming racism already? Is it really possible that Bernie's populism has a real chance to win because he combines that rare racial, cultural social class divide? Or am I just still a pessimistic old man overly cautious? Us isn't a masterpiece. Peele taps into the zeitgeist and makes it entertaining, but his films still stays as a Twilight Zone level, safe entertainment.