THE BEST OF 2019
2019 is nearly over, people! And with it comes the inevitable best of/worst of lists that always litter the internet in late December. As we don't want to buck the trend, here's our top genre picks of the year on the big - and small - screen.
Us (Director: Jordan Peele)
A family's serene beach vacation turns to chaos when their doppelgängers appear and begin to terrorize them.
After the superlative reaction to “Get Out”, Peele could have probably had his pick of thrillers and dramas, but he opted to stay in the genre… and it was a very good choice. Written and directed by Peele, “Us” was an unabashed horror movie that scored with critics and audiences. From the canny lack of publicity, to the enigmatic first “Rorschach” posters, to the final brilliantly teasing trailers, this was a classy production all the way. Like “Get Out”, it perfectly melds valid social commentary and mature scares with an utterly compelling narrative. The perfect cast headlines Lupita Nyong'o and Winston Duke from the MCU’s “Black Panther” and takes place in modern America. It ostensibly focuses on the African-American family of the Wilsons who take a (badly timed) vacation to Santa Cruz Beach and encounter evil doppelgangers. But it grows from a creepy “home invasion” concept to something much bigger and more thought-provoking.
Nyong’o picked up a lot of praise for her double role of Adelaide Wilson and “Red”, and it is a commanding (and disturbing) performance to be sure. Unnatural grins and sniggers, running full-pelt with the arms straight at the sides, and deadly skills with scissors. But the rest of the Wilson family (Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex) also give great performances as their “evil” selves, which subtly play on racial/class stereotypes. Because the plot itself is multi-layered and full of innovation, and that’s why it sticks in the memory and continues to encourage lively debates online about certain characters and the mythology created. “Us” could have been another standard “nasty duplicates” story, along the lines of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” or something. But Peele created a completely fresh backstory about “The Tethered”, which admittedly doesn’t make much sense in a “real world” scenario but stirs the imagination with the possibilities and connotations that it holds.
It helps that the concept is greatly expanded beyond the Wilsons (spirited cameo appearances by Elizabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker contribute to that) and becomes larger in scope. The visuals are great; a character backs into a vehicle fire, Wright Joseph’s frightening stare, the creepy rabbits). And the soundtrack is inspired, with a chilling remix of 1995 Luniz song "I Got 5 on It" being used brilliantly and providing atmosphere for the final brawl. The film works as a straightforward horror, with a neat (if guessable) twist at the end. But it also has so much more in terms of layers. You can put a period before and after the “S” in the title for a new perspective, with the open reference to the 1986 U.S. event “Hands Across America“ signifying the “Sunken Place” that America (and other countries) have become in terms of marginalisation and unfair class gaps. Whatever your view, it’s a finely made and very astute genre film that satisfies on many levels, not least of which is a need for original horror. It’ll be interesting to see what affect Peele has on the upcoming “Candyman” remake…
The Perfection (Director: Richard Shepard)