With “Us” Jordan Peele confirms the fact that the true present-day auteur cinema is that of terror, the genre that best and most effectively describes the world in which we live
Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” was received with critical and box office success worldwide, and one of the main reasons was because it was pitched as a horror movie: it’s scary, really scary, because it speaks of tangible realities that we perceive as close, but also because we’re watching a story that narrates how the world has gone morally adrift. In this subtext there is room for humor, because at the end of the day, being afraid is necessarily the contrast of mirroring reality with what’s absurd about it. That’s exactly what Peele has done with his latest work, “Us“, another major triumph both commercially and artistically. It’s a truly disturbing movie, at times really terrifying, which as the title indicates, speaks of us, of the darkest recesses of our beings and the acceptance of our frailties. And once again, set in a political and social context that we recognize as our own. It also makes us laugh, because Peele’s perception of fear is not that of the rigid phenomenon or the result of going all Hollywood, but as an emotional register inherent to our existence. In his own particular style, Peele synthesizes an idea that has become well-grounded in recent years; that the true present-day auteur cinema is that of terror, the genre that best and most effectively describes the world in which we live. Of course, we don’t go to the cinema just to be scared, because the genre has become a barometer of our surroundings, but rather, because we are afraid and we damn well should be, as that’s how we learn to get to know each other.
It’s hardly something new, as the history of cinema already has a few points of inflection thanks to the great authors of terror. Tod Browning, John Carpenter, Wes Craven, David Cronenberg, Tobe Hooper or George A. Romero, to name but a few, are the paradigm. But there is a significant variant in what’s happening now, and that is that the genre has reached a global and transversal appeal that was almost unprecedented until now. The movies of these great masters were profitable mainly as they were shot on shoestring budgets, and it was the passage of time that shaped them as icons. That was back when horror movies were seen as a minority product or, in the best of cases, as the result of a very specific sectorial demand, but they were denied the artistic category they have only managed to achieve over time. There was also another paradox of the authors who were already well-established and tried their hands at the horror movie, thus contributing to their prestige in a commercial context that hadn’t exactly welcomed them with open arms before that. Now, on the other hand, terror is “mainstream” from the get-go and produced by major studios. Conscious of the legacy they have in their hands, the contemporary architects of terror don’t just stop at exploring the mold, they want to reinvent it. It’s not a fad, or a conjunctural whim, but rather something structural, because it’s the best expression of our era. This is true for Peele, for James Wan, David Robert Mitchell (who also perfectly sums up the point we have reached, you only have to see “It Follows” and “Under the Silver Lake” to realize how the creative identity has been constructed), Mike Flanagan, Andy Muschietti, Robert Eggers or Ari Aster, who in “Hereditary” offered one of the most harrowing portraits of domestic terrors we’ve ever seen. In the end, all these filmmakers, like their illustrious predecessors, are authors because they succeed in transmitting their own very personal vision of what makes us tremble to the core as individuals and as a society. Ghosts, supernatural clowns, devil-worshipping sects, medieval witches, ventriloquist dolls or sinister doppelgängers are just part of a compendium of fears that give us the right measure of who we are and what the world we live in has become. Peele is right; all this is about and emanates from within us.