A Filmmaker's Guide to Jordan Peele's 'Us' (2019) - Part 2
Developing a Signature Style
Jordan Peele is very well known for inventing new and exciting methods for horror, especially where his filmmaking skills are concerned. Now on his second movie, he has quite a good streak of horror films under his belt already with Get Out (2017) having an Oscar and Us (2019) on its way to having one. If you haven’t done so already then you probably want to read the first article in this series (https://vocal.media/horror/a-filmmaker-s-guide-to-jordan-peele-s-us-2019). This article isn’t going to continue from the previous one though - so you don’t have to read the one before to understand it. The thing I do want to cover is how Jordan Peele uses this film to establish his own signature style. These are the points we’ll go through to see how that works:
The various things we’ll be looking at within these sections is how Jordan Peele is working to establish his own signature style for movies with Us (2019) being the point at which that happens. Since we already have the ground work with Get Out (2017), we should find a similarity within his next movie and see a correlation between them. We’re not comparing them, we’re searching for how these three things connect and what we may notice in future films because of this. Again, this article will be packed full of spoilers, so if you haven’t watched the films already then don’t read ahead and don’t click on the previous article link.
When we look at the film Us (2019) we definitely see some major similarities in certain aspects between this film and Jordan Peele's previous film - Get Out (2017). This is because of one very obvious factor in the world of filmmaking: Jordan Peele is establishing and developing his own style for making a horror film. Like Kubrick has his wonky cinematography, James Wan has his upside down craning shots and Tim Burton has his playful colour scheme - Jordan Peele, if to survive as a director, must have his own 'thing', his own 'air' and his own filmmaking style to be remembered by. For those of you who think that Peele only makes films regarding the SJW movement, well, you're about to be surprised that nothing in this article is about that, rather we are going to answer the following questions in each sub-section:
- How is the signature style established?
- How is it used in Us (2019)?
- What is the point of it?
The most important three questions we could ask without making this article too long encompass how and why the signature style establishment is so very important in order to create something recognisable. I hope that through this we can understand more things in the future when Jordan Peele returns to his signature styles.
Section 1: Cinematography
Cinematography is something that nearly every director - whether directing horror or not - will use in order to make themselves recognisable. It's so that you can watch a film and tell exactly who it was directed by and it's also so that when people see a certain cinematic style that they enjoy, they're going to want to see more of it and so, the style is established through the lens of audience enjoyment.
The first shot we're going to look at is the one above. Jordan Peele is often known for his good close-ups and whereas, in Get Out (2017), the main close-ups were of mostly extreme expressions, this one is fairly blank in comparison. I believe that Peele wants to show us that his close-ups have a different meaning than just extreme expression, they also represent something.
The shot above shows us a fairly mundane but thoroughly threatening expression that is central to the shot. It makes for a viewing experience that draws you in and makes you pay attention to the character even though we know little about them by this point. But, from now on wherever the camera is in that scene - the audience are going to want to pay attention to that particular character.
Here are some shots from Get Out (2017) that you can connect with the one above from Us (2019):
Try contrasting the one above this text to the one directly below it. What is the difference between the expressions in their extremity and why would we be wrong to suggest that the close-ups are there to show the extremity of emotion? How is Jordan Peele trying to establish a style whilst keeping the meaning behind it a secret? How will it have an impact on the way an audience reacts to his next movie?
And another that is slightly more uncanny:
Last one, the most uncanny resemblance:
We're not comparing the movies here, but we are wondering about Jordan Peele's want to establish his own style through close-up expressions and though in the previous movie, the expressions seem more extreme, we will have to wait until we find out the real meaning behind them as yet, we do not have enough material.
The whole point of this would be to establish just the right amount, but create a slight confusion around the meaning, thus leaving room for the audience to watch the next film and anticipate knowing more about the reason behind certain aspects. In this case, close-ups.
Section 2: Symbols
Symbols are of vast importance in Jordan Peele's movies and, through the symbols, we can understand what certain things mean and why certain things are effective. Whilst we're not really looking at the meaning, what we are looking at is the way in which that meaning is presented to us and what the point of it presented in that signature style is. Some symbols in his films are very easy to recognise, such as the use of animals. If you'd like to read more about Jordan Peele's use of animals in comparison to another film as psychological symbol then click here: https://vocal.media/geeks/a-filmmaker-s-guide-to-animals-as-psychological-symbol - but if you'd like to see a different symbol then please stick around. The symbol we're going to look at is religion and belief systems.
Symbol 1: Religion and Belief Systems
In Peele's films, the themes and symbols surrounding religion and belief systems is not very recognisable upon first watch, but after a while, we gain more and more access to them as we begin to really see how they work. This may happen after one, two, three or even ten watches of the film. Being within a certain belief system is symbolised by various points in the two films, for instance. The window crosses of the house in Get Out (2017) in which the crosses represent religion/belief and the person behind them is trapped within it:
And now the way in which Us (2019) shows the very same entrapment within a belief system that doesn't necessarily do any good to the person involved. Again, it is the sign of the cross and this time, it's being imitated from the boy that the tethered constantly mirrors because he's been conditioned to:
The point of this is to show us what entrapment looks like but to let the audience decide how it looks. Some people say that religion is like entrapment, but in this case Jordan Peele is trying to make a connection:
Religion = A Belief System, therefore, A Belief System + No Choice + Conditioned Environments = Entrapment.
It's a great showcase of symbol and we really do hope that Peele continues to show it throughout his future films.
Symbol 2: The Ending
The Ending (as a twist or a premonition) is an obvious theme in the films and in it, we see many different symbols. First of all, there's the animals and then, there's everything else. By everything else I mean that there are other ways of showing how different someone is to others and how this impacts the ending. Such as through subtleties. In Us (2019), there's a piece of artwork hanging in the living room which shows three blue people and one red one - obviously stating that Adelaide is actually the tethered. This hints at her difference and yes, this is the ending of the film.
Here it is:
From Get Out (2017), this would be a development on the sign near Chris Washington's head that reads "Chris is Dead" - here it is on the far right (do you get it, the far right. *laughs by self*). Be that as it may it also suggests that whatever happens to Chris, the girl will be responsible for as someone resembling her is on a painting directly next to it. Obviously, Chris doesn't die in the film but it does however show us the intentions of the people he's visiting. Here it is:
The point of using artwork is because it is so very subtle. You either see it because you're looking for it, or you completely miss it altogether. There is really no in-between. It really is a 'blink and you'll miss it' moment. Peele does this to retain this mystery in the ending. The ending is littered throughout the film and so, to have artwork that basically points out the ending to us is always fun for an audience upon a second or third watch. And that's exactly what it does - it makes you watch it over and over again, looking for things. If you want to learn more about the ending to Us (2019), then please proceed to click here: https://vocal.media/horror/a-filmmaker-s-guide-to-jordan-peele-s-us-2019
Section 3: Conclusion
I hope we've learnt something today and I also hope that when you watch future movies by Jordan Peele, you'll be looking out for these various things. Of course, there are many more - but today we've focused on the most basic ones so that you can build that investigation for yourself. If you want to look deeper but don't know where to start - here are some ideas on what to look out for:
- Colour Schemes and How They Change
- Day and Night
- Indoors and Outdoors
- How Lighting and Shadowing is Used
Thank you for reading and good luck on your next project :)