Us Review (Symbolism and Hidden Meanings)

I vividly remember seeing Jordan Peele’s 2017 directorial debut Get Out in the worst theater conditions imaginable. A packed, sold out house of rambunctious patrons ready to get their scare on is my typical worst nightmare when trying to watch a suspenseful thriller. To my astonishment, both the crowd and film were a pleasant experience.

Having little knowledge of what I was in for, Get Out’s unique and eerie premise surprised me in more than one way, and ended up being among the greatest theatrical experiences I’ve ever had. People we’re naturally reacting to the humor and horror in genuine shock without coming across as obnoxious; effectively narrating the emotions everyone was already feeling.

I attempted to recreate the same experience with Jordan Peele’s latest horror film Us, going in without expectations of what was to happen. And in many aspects, Us was an even greater achievement than Get Out, as its true intentions/themes are shrouded in brilliant writing.

Us stars Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke as Adelaide and Gabe Wilson, a close-knit family on a beach vacation. The family trip goes awry when they find themselves stalked by soulless doppelgängers that go by “the Tethered”. Beings that look exactly like them but clad in red jumpsuits, the Tethered mimic their movements and desire to kill the Wilson’s before the night is over. The Wilson’s must stick together and fight for their lives as they try to outwit themselves and comprehend this frightening phenomenon.

Just like Get Out, Us is a highly entertaining movie with complex visuals and obvious double meanings and subtexts accompanying it. Even the most casual of viewers can see the writing on the walls, that Us goes a lot deeper than its terrifying premise.

To my understanding, the Tethered represent the stereotypical American citizen and how we are to conduct ourselves in society. The way we go about life putting on a facade of ourselves and never showing our true colors. Themes of family cohesion and flaky personalities are sprinkled in at key moments before the doppelgangers arrive, and by the films end we’re left asking how well we know our own family and what exactly it means to be human.

I feel this symbolism is displayed prominently by the Tethered all throughout the picture, particularly in their behavior. The men exhibit clichéd dad-like mannerisms (including moronic grunting sounds), the children are commanded to “go play”, and the mother is the family orchestrator/ leader that holds it together.

This message is driven home with multiple references to Hands Across America, the public charity event that had people linking arms across the U.S. to help end hunger and poverty. A rather flaky and unrealistically kindhearted event to reflect on. And Us uses it as a vessel to emphasize fakeness and class divides. A metaphor for mindless American facade and our unwillingness to show our true selves. At one point the leader of the Tethered directly states that they are soulless copies of humans. And when asked, “What are you?” she cleverly remarks, “We’re Americans.”

Several other themes crop up along the story too. Notice the constant imagery of rabbits as well, which often signifies rebirth or resurrection. They’re also coincidentally one of the most popularly cloned animals. I haven’t even mentioned the biblical allegories and references to Abraham and Jeremiah 11:11 that permeate throughout the picture.

My interpretations may be different than yours, in fact I expect them to be. But that just goes to show how multi-layered Us is, woven like a fine quilt. Hypotheses on deeper meanings and symbolism aside, Us is still an effectively terrifying movie from the inside out. As soon as the horrors commence, they keep you nerve-racked and suspicious of scares that could happen at any moment. The doppelgängers feel all-encompassing and powerful, like they could pop up at any second as a shadow in the background waiting to move (as they do on several occasions).

Us makes its heroes more intelligible than typical horror protagonists, as some modern flicks have done in attempts to kill that old trope. But what’s done differently is that some major horror clichés are still purposefully present, and the heroes wittily react to these in rather comedic ways. For example, one character must run back inside of a house for the keys to the car when she notices one of the previously dead doppelgängers is gone. The actress practically winks at the audience with how much a stereotypical horror situation she’s in. And her physical, badass response shows her comedic preparedness to deal with such a clichéd situation.

A story like this is only as strong as its actors, and Us boasts strong performances all across the board. Actors and actresses that bring some genuine humor and raw emotion to a strong script. Top that with the finely-tuned cinematography that’s full of rich imagery and the spine-chilling soundtrack prominently featured, Us turned out to be a Grade-A horror experience. And I’m incredibly thankful I got to see it in a packed theater.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

Five Feet Apart Review

Five Feet Apart starts off as a strong, competent look at the life of a young girl named Stella (Haley Lu Richardson) hospitalized with Cystic Fibrosis (an incurable, life-threatening disorder that causes the lungs to be filled with mucus). Despite her restricted life activities and reduced lifespan, she remains optimistic about life and its many possibilities.

An interesting premise that grabs your attention fast, but then quickly falls into the cliched territory of all other romantic films. It hits all the beats of your typical chick flick, the bad boy that the protagonist falls in love with, forbidden love, and an overblown ending that ignores logic and reason. I think the fact that the CF community has responded to Five Feet Apart with such mixed reactions is a perfect indicator of just how unusual this movie plays out.

Cole Sprouse is of course stuck playing the bad boy who just isn’t that into you, but over the progression of the film he learns to love. I can’t stand this type of character because you know exactly the transformation he’s going to go through. And due to this overused character and hackneyed writing, his acting suffers too.

The saving grace of Five Feet Apart is hands down Haley Lu Richardson, who gives a terrific performance that gives the film its only sliver of credibility. I wouldn’t mind seeing her in other films in the future, as she portrays CF with dignity, respect, and a sense of curiosity towards life.

Occasionally we get a real tender moment from Five Feet Apart, which is usually provided via Haley Lu Richardson, who manages to work through the clichéd cheese. I also felt the film had some neat camera angles thrown in there to spice things up (yet not nearly as frequently as needed). And, I’d dare say I learned a thing or two about the illness along the way.

But what this film is truly lacking is a deeper sense of purpose. The deeper meanings of life with terminal illness are only explored at a surface level, exchanging genuine emotion for a melodramatic and unrealistic love story. The same love story, in fact, that has been told countless times by many romantic chick flicks in years prior. They’ve always got the gimmick too, like the guy is a soldier or the couple both have cancer. Well, now they have Cystic Fibrosis.

And it isn’t enough just to use CF as some cheap hook to play at the vulnerable audience’s heartstrings, especially considering the unanswered questions and difficult situations Five Feet Apart digs up. This subject requires particular depth and care that the writers and director were unable to provide.

Watching Five Feet Apart may help you to sympathize with someone who has Cystic Fibrosis, but never truly empathize with them. We’re never given the opportunity to put ourselves in Stella or Will’s shoes, because the choices they make along the way are so corny, so manipulative, all forms of empathy are tragically thrown out the window.

The Verdict: D+

-Zachary Flint

Captain Marvel Review: A Fem’meh’nist Action Flick

The latest of Marvel’s films to be politicized to no end is their self-proclaimed magnum opus, feminist action film Captain Marvel. Like most Marvel releases, there’s been a certain level of buzz surrounding Captain Marvel since its production was first announced. We got a hint of what’s to come at the end of Avengers: Infinity Wars and immediately speculation went wild as to who the newest edition to the MCU was.

Speculation quickly turned to controversy, controversy turned to backlash, and suddenly we had Brie Larson getting pissed and people trolling/spamming Rotten Tomatoes with fake reviews. All of which turned out to be incredibly pointless and unnecessary because the film simply isn’t worth all the effort. Anybody telling you this is some agenda-filled feminist film or misandrist hit-piece is sorely mistaking. This is no victory for any activist group or political ideology, it’s just an average movie. 

The plot manages to be simple, yet somehow still complex. I honestly felt like I learned more about the character and the film’s inhabitants more in the promotional advertising than I did in the movie, but that’s neither here nor there. Brie Larson stars as, who else, Captain Marvel. She’s an extraterrestrial Kree warrior, whatever that means, and she’s stranded on Earth in 1995. While trying to end an intergalactic war between Kree and Skrull races, Captain Marvel begins experiencing vague memories of a past life as an Air Force pilot named Carol Danvers. She quickly recruits the help of the young Shield agent Nick Fury (Sam Jackson), who she hopes can help uncover the secrets of her past life on Earth.

This is the first film in a long time that I’ve had little opinion on, lacking any and all conviction to review it. It’s possibly because I found Captain Marvel to be as standard of a Marvel movie as I could imagine. There was nothing I found that stood out as terrible or amazing, just average. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a shoulder shrug.

Captain Marvel has all the fun things you’d expect in a Marvel film at this point, as well as all the mundane things we’ve come to associate with these pictures. There’s some 90’s nostalgia, fast-paced action in outer space, and a few twists and turns in the plot. Everything involving Nick Fury was awesome (especially the impressive CGI work on Sam Jackson), and we had some cool side characters that ended up accompanying or protagonists. Pretty much all par for the course at this point.

Brie Larson as Captain Marvel was entertaining and charming at times, but her acting occasionally came off as stiff and lacking emotions. I was completely torn on how I felt she acted in the movie, as her acting abilities between each scene could be best described as day and night. One moment she’ll be making witty banter in the middle of a fist fight, screaming back at the villains, and harassing Nick Fury in a pretty comical way. Other scenes she’ll just stand there with a blank, dispassionate look on her face as if maybe she forgot her line.

As origin stories go, Captain Marvel isn’t that special or exciting, especially when films like Spider-Man: Into the Multiverse are beginning to expand upon the typical formula.  Really, this is just the pregame for Avengers: Endgame, and only serves to inform us on how Captain Marvel fits into the bigger picture. If that’s enough for you (and you’re fine with seeing another superhero origin story), then by all means seek this flick out. If you’re someone whose grown tired of the average, middle-of-the-road superhero movies, there’s no need to rush out to the theater to witness it.

The Verdict: C

-Zachary Flint