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Directed by Jordan Peele
After Get Out, it was almost a certainty that Jordan Peele would become one of the predominate voices in the industry, but as is the case with any director who comes out the gate that strongly there’s always the question of how they’re gonna follow it up; hence the term Sophomore Slump. Michael Cimino, Richard Kelly, Joe Cornish, they’ve all had underwhelming second films and it’s not that hard to see why. Bigger budgets and more creative freedom means that a lot of filmmakers will pursue their passion project which may or may not appeal to as many people (or let’s be honest, aren’t as good ideas as they think they are) which rubs up against the very high expectations to follow up their first film with something even better. Will that be the fate of Jordan Peele’s follow up to Get Out, or is he destined to buck the trend and give us a new experience that’s just as fantastic? Let’s find out!!
Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) is your average middle class woman with the perfect family consisting of her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and her children Zora and Jason (Shahadi Wright and Evan Alex) who head to their summer home for a much needed vacation. Said vacation however is somewhat bittersweet as it used to belong to Adelaide’s mother before she died and on top of that Adelaide has some less than perfect memories of the place. You see, back when she was a child she and her parents took a visit to the boardwalk where she wandered off and ran into a little girl who looked EXACTLY like her. What happened next is something of a mystery, but the point is that it was a very traumatizing moment and the memory of it has put her on edge the entire time they’re there. It turns out she was RIGHT to be fearful however because in the middle of the night a family of four who look just like them (played by the same actors) and refer to themselves as THE TETHERED break in and start being SUPER creepy around the family with some sort of deadly scheme in mind. I think it goes Step 1: Murder, Step 2: … , and Step 3: Profit, but whatever the end goal may be the Wilson family is gonna need to find a way to fight back and survive this horrid night by any means necessary. Can Adelaide and face her greatest fear in the form of the doppelganger she saw so long ago? What exactly are THE TETHERED after, and do their ambitions extend beyond just torturing this one family for funsies? What if Thanos’s plan wasn’t just to wipe out half of humanity, but to replace them with evil versions of the other half!? JORDAN PEELE IS NOW CONFIRMED FOR THE MCU!!
And so the final verdict is… very complicated! Okay, so this does feel like a Sophomore Slump movie for all the reasons I laid out, BUT I think this is one of the most fascination horror films we’ve gotten in a very long time and is immensely enjoyable to watch! Now the box office has already come in letting us know this movie is a hit, but I’m curious how much of that is momentum from Get Out considering this film is not something I would EVER peg as being a mainstream success. Maybe I’m wrong about this and I’d be glad if that’s the case, but where Get Out felt like an important movie for exactly the right time (on top of being truly brilliant no matter what time it came out), this feels like something much more specific and niche in a way that will make it an instant favorite for many while turning off others. It’s weird, it’s complicated in places, it uses a liberal amount of dream logic, and it feels like only a glimpse into something that Jordan Peel has been ruminating on for a very long time; all of which are GOOD things by the way, but in some places it does feel like a bit of a mess. Where Get Out was a very tightly controlled and focused narrative, this film has so many ideas and artistic flourishes that it could have used a bit of fine tuning here and there to keep things focused, but even with that it still has a raw energy to it that makes it feel like more than just another horror film and will certainly cement Jordan Peele’s place as one of the greats of the genre.
I sometimes have trouble putting into words why I think a movie is so great, and while that COULD be a compliment to a filmmaker understanding their craft so well that they can hide the mechanics of it all, it’s more likely a problem with my understanding of film, but I will try anyway and we’ll see if we can land on something worth talking about! So right away within the first ten minutes of the movie I was genuinely feeling tense and scared for the characters which is not an easy thing to pull off before you have a chance to get invested in the characters, so what was it that made me have this reaction? It may sound simple, but I think that Jordan Peele has a really good understanding of how to convey things through visual language and these opening moments do a great job of that. Something almost always feels off in the movie which doesn’t go unnoticed by the main character Adelaide, and even in scenes that aren’t set up to be outright terrifying, there’s something making it all seem slightly less than normal. The tension of Adelaide’s parents fighting along with the subtlety seedy nature of a boardwalk carnival combined with the fact that this is supposed to be her birthday celebration despite there being no friends and it being the dead of night sets an atmosphere that things are not going right; not to say that these experiences are invalid (people don’t always have parties with friends and everyone has to work with the schedules they have) but it goes to show how Jordan Peele can really get into the uncomfortable parts of your mind without resorting to unrealistic scenarios. Okay, I SAY unrealistic even though I know exactly how out there this movie gets towards the end, but even at that point the horror is mostly borne from something being off instead of outright terrifying or monstrous. The Tethered are a pastiche of uncanny characteristics that feel just distinct enough from normal human behavior to be truly unnerving even if they aren’t spitting acid or frying your brains with laser beams. This is why it’s not particularly important for the movie to explain EXACTLY what they are and why Evil Adelaide’s punchline to the question is rather spot on. It’s less about finding their own origin as it is about how they relate to us. What parts about them are the same and how far are the differences from what could actually be true about ourselves? It’s a movie that’s not particularly literal because it doesn’t NEED to be in order to sell us on how scary these situations can be.
To bring things back down a bit, it’s worth noting that the nuts and bolts of the film are just as entertaining as its larger than life ideas which is good because a lot of this movie leaves those ideas to simmer in the background rather than in the forefront. At its most basic level, it’s not too dissimilar from a home invasion movie which means that it hits a lot of those same beats, albeit with Jordan Peele’s particular sensibilities. The entire middle act is pretty scary, but it’s also a few goofy sound effects away from being an outright comedy as well which means that on top of getting surprised every few minutes or feeling that tension slowly build, it gives you enough moments of catharsis and relief to make the experience bearable. Winston Duke is fantastic as the typical goofy dad who has too many bad jokes and makes bad “dad” decisions, and the rest of the cast work off of him perfectly as comedic foils. On top of that, I DID geek out a bit at seeing Tim Heidecker in a mainstream movie like this, and he’s great as always in a role that could have been completely throwaway or outright annoying. Now that’s not to say that this is a laugh a minute spoof or anything like that! When the movie gets serious, it gets REALLY serious and is anchored by Lupita Nyong’o’s fantastic performance and the fully rounded character she’s playing. The film is very beautiful and uses lighting rather ingeniously throughout, not to mention that it has the blood and violence to sell the horror even if it’s not overly gratuitous about it.
This movie does have a few flaws here and there, but mostly it feels like there are things that are deliberate that are intended to confuse, annoy, or earn the ire of certain audiences; not to say that Get Out was a film that everyone loved, but it feels like this segmentation will be felt within even that film’s audience. It mostly comes down to a sense of consistency and control which is somewhat lacking here. Ideas are all over the place, the movie feels a bit awkward transitioning between the second and third act (when it becomes clear that this movie is bigger than it was originally framed as), and sure I’ll go so far as to say that some of the more esoteric or symbolic moments are a bit frustrating to wrap my head around. Now as I’ve no doubt said at least a dozen times this year, I’ve been trying not to get hung up on logical inconsistencies, plot holes, or what is strictly diabetic in an attempt to make my criticism more thoughtful than just whether characters did something I thought made sense or if a situation would play out the way I would want it to. For the most part this is a movie that exemplifies WHY it’s a good idea to not get hung up on such a literal reading because it really does hit on a more instinctual level of fear that’s worth losing yourself to and experiencing uncompromised. Other than one or two moments here and there, I was fine with everything the movie was saying (and not saying) about its characters, its world, and its premise… until the very last moments of the movie. This is kind of minor and honestly doesn’t hurt the movie, but there’s a last second twist that the movie throws just as the credits are about to role and it’s something that almost FORCES you to try and make sense of it where the rest of the movie didn’t require you to. It’s nothing big, but it did feel a bit extraneous when the movie would have been just fine ending a few minutes earlier. On top of that, I do also feel like your mileage will vary as far as social commentary because either I’m missing something REALLY obvious here or this movie doesn’t really have THAT much of a statement to make outside of the oddly specific fears that Jordan Peele is trying to capture on film. The title is something of a giveaway that there’s more to this than just a home invasion movie with scary doubles, but at least for me there’s nothing as easily decipherable as there is in Get Out which is probably another reason this might end up splitting audiences. The social commentary in Get Out was pretty hard to avoid and it added a layer to the movie that made it feel that much more important. I don’t get that same sense here which is instead replaced with a sense that this is a very personal and singular vision that speaks more about the person who made it than society as a whole.
Horror fans and film aficionados will be talking about this one for a long time but rarely do those kinds of movies get a huge amount of mainstream success or recognition which is fine and I kind of expect that to be the case here even with such a big opening weekend. I hope I’m wrong about that though because it would mean that there is a sizable audience stuff like this and I would like to see a lot more visionary directors get the budgets and marketing they need for movies that would normally seem too risky to get those kind of resources. For now though, I do recommend going to see this while it’s in theaters. Even if I don’t think it works on such a universal level as Get Out did, it’s got so much creative energy and thoughtful film making that its minor flaws are easily outweighed by everything else that is brilliant, absurd, and frightening about this movie. Now just to be on the safe side, if I start posting about how awesome Bohemian Rhapsody or that new Harry Potter movie were, you can safely assume that my evil doppelganger caught up to me. It’ll probably be too late to help me in any way, but at least you can deny him those clicks!