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When the Golden Globes announced Jordan Peeles Get Out as a nominee in the best comedy/musical category in 2017, the instant take (online, anyway) was that Get Out was too dark—too tethered to the reality of black racial anxiety—to really be a “comedy,” per se. (And it certainly wasnt a musical.) Peele, ever-playful, got in on the joke: “Get Out is a documentary,” he tweeted, later repeating the joke to Stephen Colbert on The Late Show.

Which isnt to say that Peele didnt take the question seriously. “The label of comedy is often a trivial thing,” he told IndieWire in a more sober interview. “The real question is, what are you laughing at? Are you laughing at the horror, the suffering?”

This response somewhat downplays the extent to which Get Out was beset with genre confusion from its inception, long before the Golden Globes had their say. Peele said in that same interview that he originally set out to make a horror movie, but that after showing his film to people, he decided it was “a social thriller” instead. This term, and the label of “elevated horror,” became the phrases that have trailed the film in the press ever since its release.

Its curious, though, that this would be Peeles angle. Its hard to imagine any genuine fan of his first movie—the kind of person nominating it for awards, say—laughing at the suffering on-screen. They were probably laughing instead at Lil Rel Howerys clever asides, which were broader and more effective than mere comic relief; or at Allison Williamss dangerously dead-on take as the White Girl™, which by the time of Get Outs release was already a cultural meme in itself (advanced by none other than Williams on shows like Girls). They were likely laughing at “I would have voted for Obama for a third term if I could,” or at any number of satirically persuasive gags that make the film so suggestive and memorable. All of these were worthy of outright laughs, and markers of the films success.

And all of them apparently contributed to the genre confusion. By the end of awards season, long after it had become an international hit and a much-analyzed subject of discussion online and elsewhere, Get Out was no longer “just” a horror movie. It was a comedy. It was a documentary. It was a social thriller; it was elevated horror. It was beyond genre.

Peeles new feature film, Us, is much more loaded with straightforward scares than Get Out was. It is much bloodier—much more likely to incite scaredy-cats to watch it through their fingers. It is also, to my mind, funnier, full of black dad humor, in particular, that wouldnt be out of place in a 90s sitcom. But theres still little doubt that this is unabashedly a horror movie, no matter how eager it is to pivot and sway between multiple subgenres, from funhouse horror to home-invasion thriller to slasher, sci-fi, and horror-comedy. This is becoming a Peele trademark: a movie that doesnt so much disobey the rules of a genre as it proves them secondary to the films ideas.

Which is a good thing. Because as it wears on, Us also stretches to surpass mere scares bit by bit—with a few too many ideas, a little too much social commentary, motifs that dont add up, answers that only raise more questions. A hint of self-importance undergirds it all. With each passing minute, Us tips further into “elevated” territory—somewhere around the time that a sadistically grinning Lupita Nyongo tells her terrified duplicate “were Americans,” the jig is up. Peeles movie encourages us to sniff out a “there” that the movie cant entirely justify. It encourages overthinking—something were all a little too good at in the age of Reddit.

But if we dont accept that Us is plain, simple, corny, “dont overthink it” horror—if we insist on making it elevated, or treating it like a film that surpasses its genre roots to become something more broadly provocative, even political—it doesnt really work. Its a little too high on its own supply for all the math to add up, to the films detriment.

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Peele on the set of Us.

By Claudette BariusUniversalEverett Collection.

Nyongo and Winston Duke star as the comfortably well-off, aspirant middle-class parents to a pair of tweens (played by Evan Alex and the superbly funny Shahadi Wright Joseph) who travel to their summer beach house near Santa Cruz, and are attacked, on their first night in town, by a family that looks just like them. This other family is wearing orange jumpsuits like something out of a prison wardrobe. Theyre carrying gold scissors and are mostly (save the Nyongo look-alike) deprived of language—and even she, who goes by Red, can barely get words out of a throat that sounds perennially choked. Red and her family look menacing because they are. They call themselves the Tethered, because they are psychologically tethered to their above-ground surrogates—the people theyve come to kill.

Cue the home-invasion thriller. And cue, from there, a film that openly flirts with allegory, with its presiding idea summed up in the image of “Hands Across America,” the extremely 80s charity effort in which people formed an interlinked chain across the continental U.S. in the name of curing the nation of poverty. The same happens in Us (minus Ronald Reagan), only its the subjects of such a charity—the presumed and, in this case, literal underclass—that do the linking. Right after they kill their well-off, above-ground twins—that is, the rest of us.

Us is stuffed with social commentary—more explicitly on the subject of class than race, as far as the broader world of the film is concerned. But, of course, when a mainstream film stars black people, an argument about race is rightly or wrongly assumed. The movie is mostly smart in providing little touches that give it a satisfying satirical kick: a very black-suburban-dad Howard sweatshirt, an Alexa rip-off named Ophelia who proves useless when things get fatal. But there are other symbols—bunny rabbits, those scissors and jumpsuits (which raise questions about their acquisition)—that are neither sufficiently explained nor exactly easy to write off, nor even really satisfying once you ponder them for too long.

So dont overthink them, even if the movie wants you to. Though Get Out was also rife to overthinking, its beauty was in Peeles fairly straightforward, elegant concept. The cultural codes invoked in the interracial relationship, the image of the auction block, the literalized appropriation, the archetypal white liberal family—all were handled in such a way that their extreme complexity could be summed up, exposed, and complicated by one concept: the sunken place. Us, meanwhile, trades elegance for abundance, piling on symbol after symbol until the sum cant help but seem to lead nowhere. The movie cannot account for everything it throws against the wall—and a third-act info dump, the kind of explanatory villainy that only works if done winkingly, makes matters worse.

It isnt that horror films cannot have ideas without sacrificing their legitimacy as horror. Its that Us feels too eager to prove, on Get Outs coattails, that horror can have ideas to begin with—a concept that doesnt really need proving. This is a genre that has, since the beginning, been a vehicle for some of arts most stirring, politically conscious ideas. It is also a genre that buries those ideas in the tropes and machinery of genre itself. Hence, for example, every horror movie that knowingly exposes and toys with our collective fears of unknowable Hicksvilles and white trash Americana—from Deliverance and House of 1,000 Corpses to Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Australia's Wolf Creek—and those that examine the banal fear of violence in the suburbs (Halloween), religious terror (The Exorcist and The Exorcist III), marital violence (Rosemarys Baby, The Shining), the history of slavery and racial desire (Candyman), and the legacy of Vietnam (Dead of Night, a.k.a. DeathRead More

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Vanity Fair

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