Best Horror Movies of the Decade: The evil within Us
All this month, we are counting down the 31 best horror movies of the decade and doing a closer look at why each one earned a spot on our list!
21. US (dir. Jordan Peele, 2019)
The use of doppelgängers is not a new concept to horror cinema, and there’s a good reason for this. There’s just something unsettling about coming across an exact copy of yourself. Much like the dreaded uncanny valley, there’s something about coming face to face with oneself that triggers a primal fear within. Use of doppelgängers is a pretty efficient way for a story to establish that things are absolutely fucked from moment one. Outside of twins and mirrors, there’s no situation where you could find yourself looking into your own eyes that isn’t rooted in something...concerning. Evil scientists? Clones gone awry? Multiple parallel universes? It could be anything... and it’s certainly not nothing.
In the case of Us I believe Peele is using this concept to put forth a message about personal responsibility. So often in our world we dismiss larger problems as something we should “leave up to the suits in Washington” while failing to remember the “act locally” portion of the famous phrase about charity. Granted, there are a million ways to read Us, and it’s so densely packed with thematic material that few could be discounted as invalid, but it’s this call for personal responsibility that stuck with me most. Since almost every line in the film (this is not an exaggeration) speaks to the idea of class inequality, there’s also a lot being explored in terms of the division between the haves and the have nots, but even here it boils down to an idea that plenty may find tough to swallow: when power imbalances exist, everyone is complicit, whether they like it or not. And when it comes time to point fingers at the powers that be, we would do good to remember that nobody’s hands are clean.
What’s scarier than finding out you have an evil twin hell bent on destroying you and taking your hard-earned (or not-so-hard-earned) social status away? Finding out that the truest evil lives within you, and has disguised itself behind a faux-altruistic sense of identity. After lampooning the passive racism of performatively woke liberalism in Get Out, it’s a bold move for Us to pull the satirical lens back far enough to include EVERYONE ON THE PLANET. It’s this expansion of theme that burrows under the skin of the viewer — a viewer whose skin is already crawling due to the fact that, thematic material aside, Us is a real banger of a horror flick.
From Red’s choked voice to the way that she prances around with the lightest of steps, the evil side of Lupita Nyong’o’s performance is immediately iconic, and yet, it is only one half of what she’s doing for the film. Taken in its entirety, her performance ranks alongside the all-time greats. Ms. Nyong’o is not alone either. Winston Duke, Tim Heidecker, Elisabeth Moss, Shahadi Wright Joseph, and Evan Alex all pull double duty creating both their human characters and their dangerous darker halves, and each does such a chillingly good job that I still find it hard wrapping my head around the idea that a single actor is behind each duo.
The cinematography from Mike Gioulakis (who is having quite the decade, and who will be appearing again in this project) uses a widescreen digital look to give us a deep field of focus and clarity in a minimally lit space, simultaneously invoking fear of the dark with a heavy dose of “did I just see something?!?” Add to this the stunning score from Michael Abels and you’ve got a full-on assault of the senses that leaves the viewer unsettled, even during less explicitly spooky sequences.
And since Jordan Peele wrote it, it’s also tremendously funny.
There’s no denying that the current wave of mainstream appreciation for horror cinema was inspired heavily by Jordan Peele’s breakout film, Get Out. Not only did he establish himself as a cinematic voice to be reckoned with, he also highlighted to the masses what horror nerds already knew: the genre is a great for sneaking social messages past the defenses of unsuspecting viewers. For filmmakers like Peele, however, public approval is always under the threat of being fleeting. After winning an Oscar for his exceptional screenplay for Get Out, it was suddenly up to his sophomore effort to either ensure his place in the horror canon or mark him a flash in the pan. This year, Peele put the former notion to bed with Us, a film that exceeds his tremendous debut in just about every way, while asking perhaps the bravest question a film can ask, and giving the most uncompromising answer:
What does evil look like?
It looks just like us.