The Reelist is a column featuring Kristen Page-Kirby’s musings on movies. For Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday’s review of “Us,” click here.
I do not like horror movies. I realize it’s unfair, dismissing an entire genre, but most horror movies fill me with such anticipatory dread that I simply avoid them, the way I do defrosting the freezer or driving with my mother in the car (I’m over 40, Mom. I know how to use a turn signal).
So, of course, this week I saw “Us.” I really had to; it’s the big movie this week, plus it’s the follow-up to writer-director Jordan Peele’s Oscar-winning “Get Out.” I loved “Get Out” once I saw it, which was on my couch with every light in the house on and my dog right next to me — and it’s not even a traditional horror movie.
“Us” hews much more to a conventional horror-movie conceit. After a short prelude set in 1986, we move to the present day as Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o, in a stunning performance) and husband Gabe (Winston Duke, hilariously playing the man as all dad jokes and embarrassing dabs) have brought their son and daughter to their California beach house for a vacation. One night, they come face to face — literally — with people who look exactly like them but are sporting red jumpsuits. The doppelgangers are angry, and they have scissors. This is a bad combination.
Like “Get Out,” “Us” is about more than its plot, raising questions of identity and community, fairness and justice. Peele’s use of light, dark and shadow beautifully echoes those themes, and the funny moments come often enough that the terror doesn’t smother you. It would have been a great movie for me to see on my couch with every light in the house on and my dog right next to me; instead, I saw it in a packed theater. Which was even better.
I think the last horror movie I watched in a theater was 2011’s “The Cabin in the Woods,” during which I hid in the bathroom when I saw the first death coming (I did return). Watching “Us” surrounded by people was so fun. Fun! In a horror movie!
Seeing comedies with an audience is always the best; same with Marvel movies, which bring out a particular brand of fan. I felt that spirit of community here, with people audibly “Oh, no”-ing when one character made one of the stupid decisions that in part define the genre and “Get the keys get the keys GET THE KEYS” when a getaway car was the only way out. There was applause when an evil lookalike met its grisly end (OR DID IT?) and full-theater jumps when something popped out. We were all in it together.
Of course it wasn’t all fun for me; there were plenty of times when I watched through my peripheral vision while I stared at the floor, silently repeating “It’s just a movie” and counting the lights on the theater steps. But “Us” showed me the value of horror movies as shared experiences. Even though each individual comes in with his or her baggage and biases and leaves with his or own reactions and experiences, for the space of an hour or two we’re all part of a team.
This does not mean I will be back in a theater for a horror movie anytime soon (given the eight-year gap since “The Cabin in the Woods,” I’ll be due in 2027). It does mean that I understand at least part of what horror fans get when they go to a theater. I see now that gasps and jumps and murmurings of “Get out of the house GET OUT OF THE HOUSE” are ways of building a family.