THE MAYHEM HAVING ensued, there’s a moment when Kitty’s doppelganger (Elisabeth Moss), smeared in blood, looks up to the screen and seems to howl in agony. The howl turns into a riotous laugh. And so it is with this masterful movie. Jordan Peele (Get Out), who wrote, directed and produced, has managed to find a tone (which he has made distinctly his) that balances fear and horror with outrageous black comedy; all as an expression of a cleverly written examination of the US’ divided soul.
The story is that of a typical Black middle class family, the Wilsons (Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex) on holiday in their well-appointed holiday home in Santa Cruz. It’s a place they’d not visited in years. Mom (Lupita) we know, had suffered a trauma in her childhood. She’d wandered off in a nearby fairground and, seeking shelter from the rain, found herself in a hall of mirrors; a place that promised to help you “find yourself”. What she found there scarred her for life.
This disturbing past would return with a vengeance on this first night of their holiday when a family, eerily like theirs, all dressed in (blood) red boiler suits and brandishing scissors show up outside their front door.
Here the terror begins. These people are of course the family’s darker – evil – selves. And they come not in peace. Director Peele throws all the tropes of terror at us: the usual silly people tip-toeing into dark cellars while their shadowy selves wait to do them harm; bloodied, battered bodies that disappear only to reappear at very inconvenient moments; and large scissors that snip, snip, snip.
Somehow, it’s not nearly as terrifying as it sounds…partly because Peele has such a devilish sense of humor that he always finds a laugh-out-loud moment to lighten the tension. There’s a marvelous moment just as the doppelgängers storm the home of an embattled Kitty (Moss as a bored, entitled, alcoholic lady of leisure). She commands her voice activated Alexa to call the police, but Alexa misunderstands and out booms the NWA’s hip hop Fuck tha Police.
And these evil doppelgängers are everywhere. It’s as though the entire nation has been taken over by their darker selves. Walt Whitman’s famous summation of America: “I am large, I contain multitudes” has been perverted to “I am large, I contain evil”. As the director makes clear, this evil is “from sea to shining sea”
This is a vision of an America divided unto itself…a vision of a nation co-opted by the most dangerous side of its character; by a side long buried under layers of decency and ‘middle class values’, but which have now been unleashed. And once unleashed can never be bottled up again. Welcome to the post Trump, post Brexit, post Bolsonaro world.
It’s the new Us.
Lupita Nyong’o is tremendous; a force-field holding the movie together. She’s compellingly watchable as the image of a person torn between fear, incomprehension and the resolute determination to protect her family (I am reminded of Gabrielle Union in Breaking In). She’s the one you know you can depend on to protect you.
Or can you?
Peele textures his vision with a series of absurdist images and symbols (A room with an infinity of caged rabbits; a preacher offering a Biblical warning; the repetition of the numbers 11-11; a news report from 1986 about Hands Around America) and manages a last frame twist that M. Night Shyamalan would eat his hand off for.
All good fun; and though there certainly are a few heart stopping moments (ably abetted by Mike Abels’ tremendous sound track) this isn’t by any means a horror movie. Rather it’s a deadly serious comedy about where we now find ourselves.
Therein lies the horror.
US. Dir/Writer: Jordan Peele. With: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss. Composer: Michael Abels (Get Out). Cinematography: Mike Gioulakis (Glass). Production Design: Ruth De Jong