Jordan Peele's "Us" and A Look at the Horror Genre

I remember the very first time I went to see a horror movie in theaters. It was 2009, I was in the sixth grade and hanging out with a new group of friends. We all wore matching acid- washed jeans and Aeropostale t-shirts. Wherever I went, a miasma of body odor and Paris Hilton body spray soon followed. I had to play it cool around my new friends and pretend I wasn’t the same girl who refused to go into the basement alone or who cried at the Topsfield Fair when the clown in the dunk tank heckled her. We saw The Uninvited and I quickly realized in the beginning of the movie that I had nothing to fear-- this movie was stupid. Years later I was watching the 2003 South Korean movie A Tale of Two Sisters and found it eerily familiar. Turns out that The Uninvited was a very bad remake of a very good movie.This got me wondering why so many great international films, namely horror films, are remade into “English versions” and what “English version” really means. It is hard for me to understand what purpose these films serve.

 

The highly popular 2016 South Korean zombie movie Train to Busan is set to be remade into an “English” version by the Gaumont film company with Gary Dauberman as the writer. Coincidentally, Gary Dauberman produced the new film The Curse of La Llorona which has received a lot of backlash for casting white actors despite the movie taking from Mexican folklore. I believe that “English” is a term meant to disguise the evident white washing of these stories. The horror genre is known for its racist tropes. People of color always serve as fodder in horror movies, they never get to survive in the end, instead serving as comic relief to ease the tension of the film. Even the first black male lead in a horror movie in George Romero’s 1968 Night of the Living Dead dies. Having said this, there is an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to racism in the horror genre. Racism in horror movies acts like a vampire: It's this parasitic evil sucking the life out of what could be great films. It quietly lurks, making itself indistinguishable amongst shadows until we shine a light on it.

 

Enter Jordan Peele--a powerhouse filmmaker whose directorial debut Get Out made history, changing the way contemporary audiences engage with horror movies. Jordan Peele makes a place for himself in a genre which has historically excluded black people. Not only that, he uses this space to tell black stories. With his follow up film Us released on March 22, Peele continues to thoughtfully weave social commentary into a story that delivers perfectly- executed scares. Peele stated that “Everything in this movie was deliberate, that is one thing I can guarantee you.” Before this movie came out, a couple of fellow students in my Race and the Contemporary Arts class were discussing the importance of representation regardless of whether or not the film will overtly tackle racism like Get Out. Peele believes in representation, as expressed in his thoughts:

“I don’t see myself casting a white dude as the lead in my movie… Not that I don’t like white dudes, but I’ve seen that movie...The way I look at it, I get to cast black people in my movies. I feel fortunate to be in this position where I can say to Universal, ‘I want to make a $20 million horror movie with a black family.’ And they say yes.”

 

 

The film is filled to the brim with symbolic imagery from the Hands Across America motif to the white rabbits to the Tethered themselves, leading many to theorize over Peele’s overarching allegory. Though Peele’s metaphorical intentions are still up for debate, his position in the horror genre is not. Throughout the film we are constantly reminded that we are watching a horror film. Peele confirmed that the filming location of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk nods to Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys. Characters are seen wearing Jaws and Thriller T- shirts and the film is littered with references to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. It is difficult to discuss my own interpretation behind Peele’s choices without spoiling the movie so I will refrain from analysis. I will say that this movie does a lot more than The Uninvited did. If you are really freaked out by horror movies I think you could watch Get Out but Us might be too scary for you so proceed with caution. I personally think that this movie is worth everyone’s time, not only is it fun but it is relevant and important. If Hollywood made more space for artists of color rather than wasting its time on white washed, redundant remakes, we would have a plethora of valuable mainstream films like Jordan Peele’s Us which inspire both thrill and thought.

 

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