Jordan Peel’s sophomore follow-up to Get Out had big shoes to fill. Peele had to prove that he wasn’t just another one-trick pony following a film that essentially defined 2017’s Trump-era politics while balancing horror and comedy.
In Us, Adelaide Wilson, her husband, and their two children revisit a summer home near the Santa Cruz beach where a traumatic event in Adelaide’s childhood occurred. Adelaide’s dread becomes overbearing as her family settles into their new home, only to have her fears confirmed when four masked strangers appear in her home. A standard home invasion thriller quickly takes a turn when the strangers reveal themselves to be the doppelgängers of the family members.
A messy and unyielding film, Us failed to create the same level of cohesion and satisfaction as Get Out. Despite its lack of polish, it made up for it with vicious energy. Us is much more ambitious than Get Out. In addition to the awesome set pieces and breadcrumb clues, the film featured a stylish, enthusiastic director stretching his creative skills behind the camera.
As humans, we create a world where each human is tied to another being, whose suffering helps maintain our material world. A striking metaphor, yet vague enough to represent various social systems we currently inhabit. Amidst the looming class warfare and a horrifically brash inversion of Hands Across America, the film deftly illustrates the dangers of masking or denying others’ suffering for our own sake. Those who watch it are warned: the suffering of others cannot be rationalized away, as those tied to us will not remain silent.
Sorry to Bother You (2018)
Boots Riley directs Sorry to Bother You, a dark comedy. The scenes in the film revolve around Amazon work centers, soulless corporate jobs, picket line crossings, and news cycle manipulation so cynical it has to be seen to be believed.
In an exaggerated version of Oakland, Cassius Green lives out a late-stage capitalist nightmare. By learning to code-switch, he quickly finds success in telemarketing. After climbing the corporate ladder, he finds himself at a crossroads: does he cross the picket line and accept the insane salary being offered, or does he show solidarity with his co-workers, individuals in the same situation as he was only days earlier?
The story presents these ideas in a rapid-fire manner as it creates a dystopia that is both prescient and already apparent. A surprisingly confident film from a new filmmaker that uses nearly every tool a filmmaker has to create a postmodern masterpiece that boldly asks if one can succeed in society today without giving up their dignity and their freedoms.
The Florida Project (2017)
One-parent families living in poverty are vividly drawn in the Florida Project. The sequel to Sean Baker’s Tangerine is an episodic story about a family living in a motel near Disney World. This quickly becomes a tragic tale of desperation and the choices people are forced to make when they’re facing impossible odds.
Moonee and her ragtag friends run amuck in the Magic Castle hotel while engaging in mischief and running amuck, unsupervised. Her mother is struggling to maintain a stable life, living on a budget in which a late rent check could mean homelessness. To make ends meet, she commits a number of risky, calculated decisions including stealing Disney World passes, charging guests’ rooms for meals, and ultimately turning to prostitution.
Technically, the film is beautifully cast and shot with a deft sense of timing and an eye-popping colorization that makes the run-down motel feel nostalgic. It avoids many of the pitfalls that many poverty films commit by focusing on Moonee’s perspective, which highlights the day-to-day activities she engages in.
As the joyful child perspective contrasts with the crushing cycles of poverty, a tangle of moments that demands empathy and reckoning develops. Disney World casts a shadow over both the motel and the film. In addition to being the focal point of Orlando, it is also irrelevant to those without the means to engage with it.
With Roma, director Alfonso Caurón returns to his roots with his first Spanish-language film since Y Tu mama tambien. Having received 10 Oscar nominations, and being regarded as the best film of 2018, the film is a semi-autobiographical slice of life story about a live-in housekeeper during the Corpus Christi Massacre.
An upper-middle-class family employs one Cleodegaria “Cleo” Gutiérrez as a housemaid. Cleo becomes pregnant while there and witnesses her employer’s marriage crumbling. Cleo, despite never belonging, finds solace in the family she works for as protests, civil unrest, and a state-sanctioned massacre of students play out in the background.
Cuarón uses a compelling technique in which political turmoil is contrasted with the mundane details of an intimate portrait of a woman struggling to make her way in the world amid chaos. In the film, political unrest serves as a looming backdrop that sharply emphasizes the vastly differing perspectives between the privileged and the affluent. Roma, thanks to its ambiguity and episodic structure, is able to communicate large ideas with effortless simplicity.
The film Trainspotting tells the story of generational poverty through the eyes of an unemployed heroin addict in his 20s. Renton is a heroin addict who, after a particularly long binge, tries to clean himself up and “choose life”. He is thwarted by the allure of drugs and the opportunity to earn money.
It’s easy to ignore the class commentary until Renton finally screams at the screen about how awful it is to be Scottish in Trainspotting, a deeply dark comedy filled with jaw-dropping moments. A cast of fully developed characters play the part of Renton, who suffers from addiction, escapism, and the harsh realities of a life that offers little in the way of money, power, or status.
Filmgoers are forced to contemplate the nature of a lower-class lifestyle imbued with the community. Getting out may be the goal, but it isn’t possible for everyone. In a class position where solidarity is the norm, turning against your friends is a harsh proposition. Although Trainspotting questions whether loyalty and freedom have benefits and costs. Freedom means never returning to your current life, and in a world without redemption, the choice may not be as obvious as you think.