‘Us’ review: Terrifying dissection of duality

Jordan Peele’s ‘Us is one of those rare gems that feels like an instant classic right after seeing it.

The theme of duality permeates all over Jordan Peele’s sophomore film Us that even its title serves a double purpose – a noun and an abbreviation for United States (you’ll get it once you’ve seen the film). It’s a horror thriller that pits us against our worst, deprived selves a.k.a. the “id” that we try to suppress. What if that “inner beast” finds it way to grow among the shadows, learns to mimic your behavior and finally starts manifesting us your doppelganger? It might be an abstract concept but writer/director Peele materializes this fear into a feral reality. Indeed, we are our own worst enemies.

It’s only fitting that the film itself can be enjoyed two ways. For the first viewing, you can watch it on a surface level: a home invasion scarefest, with an unforeseen twist that should knock the wind out of your lungs. After that, watching it again can still be a different experience. By the way its screenplay is constructed, the layers of Us don’t reveal themselves until a repeat viewing. By then, the details that may seem trivial to you now starts to lock in place and even the throwaway lines are now charged with a whole new meaning. Take this scene in the trailer as an example. There’s a beautiful overhead shot of the Wilson family walking along the beach, their bodies casting long shadows. There’s no way to know that this shot carries meaning for the rest of the film.

The Tethered. (L-R): Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex and
Lupita Nyong’o play evil versions of themselves.

Actually, going in for more than two viewings might not be a crazy idea at all (provided you have the financial means to do so) for Us is so ripe with symbolism and allegory that even after discussing with friends, I’m pretty sure there are still things that went above your head. Its commentaries might not be as razor-sharp as Peele’s Get Out, but its broad application encompasses undercurrents on social jealousy and underclass oppression – more of that later.

So basically, Us revolves around the Wilson family who’s out on a weekend getaway in Santa Cruz, California. There’s mother Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) who’s been harboring a dark past, father Gabe (Winston Duke) who’s channeling his inner Homer Simpson to bring out some comic relief, daughter Zora (Shadadi Wright Joseph) who prefers the company of her smartphone and the youngest Jason (Evan Alex) who has a liking for wearing masks as if it’s Halloween everyday.

“There’s a family in our driveway.” – Jason

That fateful day, Adelaide has been constantly bothered by a series of omens and alas, these come into fruition when a family of four – that looks exactly like them – starts terrorizing their cottage. Garbed in matching red jumpsuits and brandishing a pair of golden scissors as their choice of weapon – a nod to the working class and the theme of duality, respectively – the film refers to them as “The Tethered.” At the moment, they’re origin and motives remain to be a mystery but one thing’s for sure, they are hostile and they are out for blood. Also, for some reason, only Adelaide’s counterpart, Red, has the ability to speak.

It’s best to cut off from there to avoid spilling the beans but let’s just say that what follows is Peele showing excellent command in his grotesque yet gorgeous filmmaking elements. What I like most about his style is that he doesn’t purely rely on gratuitous violence and lame jumpscares. Aided by Mike Gioulakis’ masterful cinematography and Michael Abel’s atmospheric musical scoring, what ultimately scares you are the social ills attached to the film.

Playing with fire. Evan Alex as Jason and his Tethered counterpart in ‘Us.’

Deprivation and envy are the prime driving forces here. The film is a satirical take on the American caste system – “the haves” and “the have nots.” For every privileged person, there’s someone out there who’s being deprived of a need. It nudges us to look at the plight of the people beneath our class. To consider how our actions ripple on others’ lives in ways more impactful than we perceive. By the time the film gets to its exposition dump, it evokes more questions in your head – some gets answered, others don’t. What starts off as a domestic horror proves to be more ambitious and larger in scope. Its resulting conspiracy aspect won’t stand strong against scrutiny, but this film simply manages to tether to your psyche as soon as the credits roll.

And let us not forget Lupita Nyong’o who takes this great film into a whole new level. Her double-edged performance is jaw-dropping. As Adelaide, her subtle uneasiness carries the film’s weight and as Red, her unbelievable voice sounds like its coming out from a crushed esophagus. There’s a reason why this lady has an Oscar. Us is the perfect vehicle for her acting prowess. It helps as well that the rest of the supporting cast are excellent all throughout in portraying their real and shadow versions. A special mention goes to Elisabeth Moss for making the most of her role.

Lupita Nyong’o plays a resilient mother and wife in ‘Us.’

Us provides more than enough thrills and significance to be included in film discussions years from now. I daresay that this is an instant classic. In a cinematic era full of sequels and reboots, Peele crafts an exquisite gem that looks like nothing else. That being said, the visionary filmmaker is very much welcome to explore more “sunken places” in the horror genre. Or more accurately, the horror genre needs Jordan Peele.

4.5 out of 5 stars
Directed and written by Jordan Peele, ‘Us‘ stars Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Madison Curry, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Anna Diop, Cali and Noelle Sheldon. Run time: 116 minutes.

‘Homestay’ review: Supernatural drama of second chances

Thai fantasy thriller ‘Homestay’ is a wonderful adaptation made amusing by Parkpoom Wongpoom’s artistic vision.

Homestay is a Thai adaptation of Japanese fantasy novel Colourful by Eto Mori which was written in 1999 and translated into Thai in 2003 as “Mua Sawan Hai Rangwan Phom.”. From the trailer, it looks like the typical cross of romance and resurrection film, but it is actually more than what is shown. The film starts as something supernatural and it quickly hooks in its audiences by offering a little mystery-solving thrill. Then the tone suddenly becomes light on the succeeding acts, turning its small moments into fun-filled and cheesy segments. The film is basically a mixed genre of supernatural experience and family drama which leads to profound existential realizations in life. The story brings a heart-warming take to teenage problems of dysfunctional family, peer pressure and depression making this film a much more interesting viewing experience from where it initially started.

This film is about a wandering soul who’s given a new shot at life by “the Guardian” (Nopachai Chainam) when he finds himself reincarnated in the body of a high-schooler named Min (Teeradon Supapunpinyo). But much like the film’s namesake, ‘homestay’ (where someone temporarily stays with a local during a trip), Min’s body is not permanent and it comes with a condition. Within 100 days, he has to find out who is responsible for “Min’s death” or else, he will die and leave this medium for eternity, never to be reborn again.

As the new Min, he resumes a life with his newfound family: his workaholic and distant father (played by veteran DJ Viroj Khwantham), his go-with-the-flow mother (Suquan Bulakul) and his smarter and overachieving older brother (Nutthasit Kotimanus-wanich). His new life takes a turn for the better when he meets his tutoring partner and mentor Pi (BNK48’s leader Cherprang Areekul) and develops an intimate connection with her, making him want to stay in this body for good.

Director Wongpoom creates a positive story and keeps the essence of teenage issues based from the novel. With its heavy and sensitive subject matter, the film could’ve easily gone a darker path. Instead, Wongpoom focuses on Min’s character metamorphosis – on how he’s gone from a reluctant and coward soul to an assured and self-actualized being. He wants to make Min’s more interesting by not painting him entirely as a suicide victim, but as a multi-dimensional person who has hopes, dreams and frustrations.

On the creative side, Parkpoom effectively uses The Guardian and Min’s task as a metaphor for suicide therapy through showing the viewers how Min’s character has changed while searching for reasons why Min decided to take his life. It’s refreshing and bold to see Min’s supernatural experiences as he goes along the process of redeeming himself from a suicide attempt. For Min is a vulnerable soul, it will be inspiring to see his change in perspective. Such sends a good message to its audience: that it is possible to live a happier life by not looking down at our situation but rather empathizing with the people who unintentionally hurt our feelings.

The concept of the film relates to the non-attachment principle, which states that everything will come and depart eventually, including life itself. When the spirit is first placed in Min’s body, he lives freely and joyfully, the spirit looking at Min’s life as an outsider. But once Min realizes that he’s taking charge of someone else’s life and understands the rare opportunity that is given to him, he finally starts owning his borrowed body and maximizing the second chance that was bestowed upon him.

Homestay is crafted with a lot of effort as it mixes second chances and family drama. The effects are striking, mostly comical, and the film conveys a simple yet bold message for its viewers. The acting is remarkably done starting from the star of Bad Genius Teeradon Supapunpiyo who bolsters the entire film with his best appearance since his early roles. He maintains his level of charm and believability regardless whether he’s delivering a comedic or dramatic performance While Areekul gives a big revelation in her debut role, proving that she is more than just a pretty face. Despite having a slow pace and few lapses when it comes to plot progression, this is one of those good films produced by GDH (Gross Domestic Happiness). It stacks up in the mid-level of quality films that GDH has produced.

Homestay is a film with a big heart that puts a big emphasis on the importance of life. It’s a treat for teens who are in need of a fresh perspective in their seemingly overbearing lives. It’s a Thai film for everyone who wants to be touched by quality films.

4 out of 5 stars
Directed by Parkpoom Wongpoom, ‘Homestay’ stars Teeradon Supapunpinyo, Cherprang Areekul, Suquan Bulakul, Viroj Khwantham, Nutthasit Kotimanus-wanich, Saruda Kiatwarawut and Nopachai Chainam. Run time: 131 minutes.