Updated: Mar 22, 2020
Since my job used to involve bringing projects to film in Nevada's impressive array of locations, I view almost all movies with an eye to where they lensed and what impacts they produce. Writer-Director Jordan Peele's horror film "Us" fits right into my specified interest because it initially generated headlines that its story scared visitors away from the Santa Cruz boardwalk in California. That seemed odd to me, since my experience showed visitors often throng to places shown in a bad light — as happened for Belgium's title city of the 1968 film "In Bruges."
Follow-up headlines discount the original news about the movie "Us," now calling it a long-term boost to tourism. That phrase "long-term" indicates a positive point; it means the movie generated an enormous audience. As it should. Following on the heels of his huge success and screenwriting Oscar for "Get Out," Peele once again succeeds at scaring people while making them think. While "Get Out" finishes in a splatter movie mode, it always impressed me with a "Twilight Zone" tone of unsettling situations that ultimately provide social commentary along with twinges of fear. The movie Us continues that pattern, but with a more direct reference to "The Twilight Zone."
Check out the 1960 episode called "Mirror Image" with Vera Miles. She plays a woman whose normal-seeming schedule waiting for a bus turns creepy when she sees a double of herself. Writer-director Peele springboards from that idea by presenting a little girl wandering into a Santa Cruz funhouse and spotting her double in multiple mirrors. Fast forward thirty plus years, and now as a grownup, her double and others rise from the depths of the Santa Cruz boardwalk to wreak havoc on the community.
Peele ties viewers to one particular family, headed by Oscar winner Lupita N'yongo of "Twelve Years a Slave." He photographs her striking features brilliantly, catching one persona as a caring mother and another as a vengeful enigma. Much of what happens falls firmly in the horror category, with scissors stabbing and blood flowing. But Peele also explores society's susceptibility to control and an emptiness that pervades every day life. It gets complicated, with much worth going back to watch again. And as for the Santa Cruz boardwalk? Movie or not, it provides classic beach front escape for locals and visitors alike.
This review was originally aired on 4/9/2019.
You can listen to it online at https://www.kunr.org/post/us-2