Let’s Talk about Us

Film. Actors Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke tell Us the new horrific thriller directed by Jordan Peele, revealed by the amazing Get Out

By Jacky Goldberg

Sometimes films have several ends (well-known syndrom of The Lord of the Rings, for example), but rarely several beginnings. Yet, it’s the case of Us, Jordan Peele’s second full-length feature film, only two years after the blaring Get Out. There are indeed four prologues before the real beginning (a sign about American undeveloped tunnels, rabbits locked into a cage, a friendship chain to fight against poverty and a little girl traumatized by the vision of her double in an amusement park). Four prologues and many signs to interpret, put here by Jordan Peele like small stones to pick up in order to avoid being lost in the sense’s labyrinth he opens before our eyes and never completely closes, even after a two-hour gripping story.

The film doesn't give any answer, it asks them. And it tries to open a conversation.

Even more than in the brilliant Get Out, Us puts its creator in the category of these directors obsessed with signs and details, alongside Hitchcock, Kubrick or Fincher, not to mention the others. Certainly not at these directors’ level, being too young and unprepared- he wrote, shot and made this movie in less than a year, but one more would have been necessary in order to polish the few imperfections. But Peele impresses us after all. His visceral directing, his generosity, his ability to open up so entirely, without holding back, at the risk of failing- some laborious explanations and the final twist, failed, proving that anyone cannot be Shyamalan (Split, Glass)— contributes to turn Us into a bracing show we want to see again once the curtain has fallen.

“The film doesn’t give any answer, it asks them. And it tries to open a conversation”, Winston Duke explains to us when we met him in Los Angeles. “He’s here to raise awareness”. Revealed in Black Panther (he played M’Baku, a renegade in the moutains), Duke plays here a good father, funny but a little stubborn, trying to convey the image of a manly and confident patriarch. Little by little, he will have to give the power to his wife, true heroine of the film. Lupita Nyong’o (Oscar of the best actress in a supporting role for Twelve Years A Slave) embodies her and it’s already, obviously, one of the great feminine roles in horror cinema. Having an expressive and physical acting, but without making too much (which is characteristic of so many American comedies), she signs here a very great horrific scene, an unforgettable monologue that turns the audience’s blood to ice with the mere strength of her voice: “I drew my inspiration from a vocal cords’ illness called Spasmodic Dysphonia, affecting some people for physical, emotional reasons or sometimes we don’t even know why. I’ve worked for months with an ENT specialist to get this voice”, she explains. The kind of performance the Oscars will theoretically not forget…

Erudition and Revolution
The actress agrees to share a precious information with us: a list of the film Jordan peele asked her to watch, “so that they could speak the same language”. It is composed of ten titles, and could stand for a horror cinema’s best-of for film-lovers:

Dead Again (Kenneth Brannagh),
Morse (Tomas Alfredson),
2 sœurs (Kim Jee-Woon),
Signes (M. Night Shyamalan),
Shining (Stanley Kubrick),
Les oiseaux (Alfred Hitchcock),
Mister Babadook (Jennifer Kent),
Funny Games (Michael Haneke),
Annihilation (Alex Garland),
Mother ! (Darren Aronofsky).

We finally ask her what she thinks about the film’s political scope, about her vision of the world, which is about social classes and not about race like in Get Out. The characters’ skin color has nothing to do here with the story, which is actually a strong statement.  Her answer is quick: “To me, it’s a film about the other we point at, whoever he is, instead of looking at ourselves and wondering: what is my responsibility  in the upcoming and even already present disaster?”. Winston Duke completes and gets closer to us, as if he was about to reveal a secret: “You know, to me, it even refers to the French Revolution. The masses removed from society like subhumans and holding rich peoples accountable, it reminds me a little of that, don’t you agree?”. Good catch, Winston. But because the film is opened to interpretation, we even want to go further: the red uniforms worn by the Tethered, these doubles coming from the underground to remind us of our guilty conscience, if we look closer, aren’t they a little yellow?