Weekend Movie Takeaway: 'Us'
March 25, 2019
Us, comedic actor-turned-writer-director Jordan Peele’s highly anticipated follow-up to his genre-redefining, Oscar®-winning 2017 horror Get Out, was released over the weekend to spectacular numbers: The film took in $71 million throughout its opening frame; an even higher gross than the initial estimates suggested.
In addition to once again advancing the increasingly obvious notion that films with predominantly African-American casts can play to blockbuster-sized audiences, the response to the film was encouraging on multiple fronts.
Firstly, this is not a brand name franchise (yet). In an era when seemingly nine out of 10 mainstream films are based on intellectual property that the audience is already familiar with, the success of a film comprised of entirely new characters and stories is cause for celebration. This is the biggest opening for a live-action film based on original intellectual property since Avatar in 2009.
And unlike Avatar, it’s the story itself that seems to be intriguing audiences the most when it comes to Us.
Indeed, Peele’s rise to prominence demonstrates how much storytelling can drive the conversation in modern popular culture.
Get Out didn’t become a phenomenon because of how famous its actors were. It didn't become a phenomenon because of amazing CGI, or a notable action set-piece, or a fantastic stunt. It became a phenomenon because of the power of its storytelling. It reaffirmed the ability of storytelling to shine a light on what people are saying, thinking and doing in the real world. You can’t often say that about a well-known brand name.
Even though he was only one film deep after Get Out, audiences were feverish to see what Peele would do next in the horror arena. And the marketing for Us played off that intrigue.
The advance publicity revealed the central conceit of the movie — a family of holiday-makers are attacked by evil doppelgängers — but stopped short of any further explanation. That left audiences hungry to see how Peele would explain such a conceit.
The film’s strong performance throughout the three-day weekend suggests that word of mouth is keeping interest in Us alive. To observe that the film is a conversation-starter is to understate just how much Peele throws out there in his film.
There are already countless debates raging about the film’s meaning and its ending. The nature of the film and Peele's unwillingness to spell certain things out ensures these debates won’t quell anytime soon.
It’s refreshing and encouraging to see audiences so invested in the narrative ambitions of a big blockbuster film, as opposed to focusing on how a newly designed costume looks.
The thematic and narrative ambition of Us also bodes extremely well for Peele’s impending reboot of The Twilight Zone, which hits CBS All Access on Monday.
The original version of The Twilight Zone is arguably the most narrative-centric example of filmed entertainment ever produced, and its narrative legacy still informs all modern genre storytelling. Seeing the kind of thought that went into Us, and the degree to which audiences are responding to it, shows that Peele is the right man to carry creator Rod Serling’s legacy into the 21st century.
Written by: Dominic CorryDominic Corry is a Los Angeles-based film critic, writer, journalist and broadcaster. Raised in New Zealand, he is also the West Coast editor of Letterboxd, the social network for movie lovers. For more of his film writing, see his website www.TheGoodInMovies.com