March 21, 2019

Meet The Cast Of Us — Aka 7 People Who Are Going To Give You Nightmares

Jordan Peele's latest horror film, Us, already has already impressed critics and given fans nightmares. But, perhaps the one thing that's more impressive than Peele's storytelling and knack for tapping into the darkest recesses of the human mind is his ability to put together an incredible cast of Us, led by Lupita Nyong'o and Winston Duke. The film centers around the Wilson family, who encounter alarming, vindictive creatures who look just like them while on a vacation with their friends, the Tylers, in Northern California. Throughout Us, each of the primary characters portrays two people: the characters we acknowledge being from the "real" world and their "Tethered" doppelgängers.

"I think the main idea that went into writing this film is that we're our own worst enemy, and that idea created this monster, The Tethered," Peele told Entertainment Weekly last December. "I wanted to forge this new mythology that explored our duality and the duality of the characters." While the film seems to focus on good vs. evil on an individual level, Peele told a panel at SXSW that the concept also pertains to societal groups.

"We are in a time where we fear the other, whether it's the mysterious invader who might kill us or take our jobs, or the faction that doesn't live near us that votes differently than we did," he said, according to Vanity Fair. "Maybe the evil is us. Maybe the monster that we're looking at has our face."

Peele's ability to make fans look inward at their own demons is, sadly, not the film's greatest accomplishment. Instead, Peele broke ground by being one of the first (if not the first) mainstream director to feature a Black family front and center in a horror film, a feat Nyong'o praised in an interview with Rolling Stone.

"The subject of race is irrelevant to the experience that this family is going through. But the fact that this family exists in this particular genre and the legacy that is horror, that is the racial statement," she said. "The subject itself, what we're dealing with in the film, is something else. And that in itself is refreshing as well, that the experience of Black people is not always in context of their blackness. At the end of the day, Jordan [Peele], but putting Black people at the center of his narratives, continues to expand our perception, our understanding of such people."

Below, get to know the cast and characters who star in Us.

Lupita Nyong'o

Nyong'o, Academy Award winner and overall fashion and beauty icon, stars as Us ' main protagonist and antagonist. On one hand, she plays Adelaide Wilson, a loving wife and mother of two who just wants her family to have a memorable vacation. On the other, she's Red, the nefarious leader of The Tethered, who stops at nothing to torture her counterpart.

"With the Red character, Jordan [Peele] used two words: queen and cockroach," Nyong'o said at SXSW, according to Vanity Fair. "They were such dissonant ideas, but there's a stillness to both. Queens are often very regal, and they rule with just their energy. With cockroaches, there's always an element of surprise."

Consider us intrigued and horrified.

Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Winston Duke

Duke, who starred alongside Nyong'o in Black Panther, portrays Gabe Wilson, a protective, sometimes goofy husband and father who appreciates a classic rap throwback (he plays Luniz' "I Got 5 on It" in the car with his family). His Tethered persona, Abraham, is much more sinister, using brute force and communicating only through grunts.

Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Elisabeth Moss

Moss has already proven her versatile acting chops through her transformation from 1960s marketing star in Mad Men to repressed, yet fearless, sexual servant in Handmaid's Tale. In Us, she takes her skills even further, as she morphs from friendly real housewife Kitty Tyler into her malicious Tethered counterpart, Dahlia.

Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Tim Heidecker

Typically known for his comedy, Heidecker may seem like an unlikely choice for a horror film. Yet, he definitely fits the part. Heidecker plays Josh Tyler, Kitty's wealthy husband and close friend of the Wilsons. His doppelgänger goes by Tex.

Josh and Kitty also parent twin girls, Becca and Lindsey (Cali and Noelle Sheldon), whose Tethered personas, Io and Nix, rival the creepy twins in The Shining.

Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Evan Alex

Alex plays the Wilson's youngest child, Jason, and is the first character to encounter one of The Tethered on the beach. Though he appears sweet and non-confrontational in the real world, his doppelgänger, Pluto, is fearless. His persona is somewhat like that of a puppy and he has a fascination with fire. *Shudder*

Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Shahadi Wright Joseph

Thirteen-year-old Wright Joseph plays the Wilson's daughter, Zora. But don't let Zora's friendly nature or badass name fool you; her Tethered counterpart, Umbrae, is skin-crawlingly scary.

Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Madison Curry

Curry may be the youngest of the bunch, but she's far from the least intimidating. This rising star portrays the child versions of both Adelaide and Red.

Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

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Jordan Peel’s Us Will Scare You Off Red Jumpsuits Forever

We’ve all had moments of introspection wondering what our lives would be like in different circumstances. How much are we defined by our environment? Our acquired tastes? Our relationships? Our privilege? Why do we do certain things, and avoid others? Could our worst enemy be lurking within, tamed by material comforts and human connection? And what would happen if those were taken away?

In Us, Jordan Peele has made another socially-conscious horror movie out of this nagging, subconscious feeling of self-doubt and unease. By now, you probably are aware of the plot highlights: A family on vacation find themselves under siege by four people who look uncannily like them. But there’s obviously more to it than that.

The action opens in 1986. A young Adelaide Wilson (Madison Curry), on vacation in Santa Cruz with her parents, wanders off on her own at a carnival and finds herself standing before a eerie-looking fun house advertising a vision quest. Inside, she encounters something that scars her forever: an exact copy of herself. Fast-forward nearly 30 years later, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) is married to Gabe (Winston Duke) and the mother of sullen teenager Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and quiet introvert Jason (Evan Alex). The Wilsons are the picture of an upper-middle class American family. They’re affluent — although Gabe still covets the more showy wealth of friends Josh and Kitty (Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss) — and have the kind of easy, comfortable dynamic of kids playfully mocking their lame dad who loves boats. But soon after arriving at their Santa Cruz-adjacent beach house, Adelaide gets increasingly agitated: Something ominous is coming for them.

And as we know, that something is, well, them. Or at least, a version of themselves clad in red jumpsuits, one fingerless leather glove, and sandals (very Wild Wild Country), armed with golden, razor sharp shears, and led by Red (Nyong’o, in a seriously complex bit of double acting), Adelaide’s doppelganger, now all-grown up. They are “The Tethered,” shadows doomed to exist underground, as their more privileged versions live it up above.

In many ways, these copies mirror the defining characteristics of their hosts. Red is graceful, sylph-like in her movements as she weaves her way around the house in pursuit of her prey; Abraham, Gabe’s doppelganger, is all brute force, lumbering and pretty easy to outrun, but deadly once he catches up. Umbrae, with her creepy dead-eyed smile and cheetah-like speed, and Pluto, a masked boy obsessed with fire, round out the foursome.

What follows is essentially a supersized home invasion set-up, as The Tethered start to terrorize their other selves all across the country. Like Get Out, Us moves seamlessly between comedy and horror. (One second Gabe is clumsily trying to seduce his wife. The next, Jason appears to inform them that “there’s a family in our driveway.”) Michael Abels’ haunting score, now the soundtrack of my nightmares, is punctuated with fun, unexpected musical cues, like an ersatz Alexa named Ophelia playing The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” and a symphonic version of Luniz’s “I Got Five On It.”

Peele continues to prove himself a master of horror, relying on camera blocking and sustained tension rather than cheap jump scares, and teasing nuanced and fascinating performances out of his actors. Moss has only brief screen time, but is transfixing as her undead-looking Tethered self enjoys a moment of pure self-indulgent pleasure applying lip gloss, a maniacal smile spreading across her scarred cheeks. (And we already know she looks damn good in red.) And Nyong’o! This is her most impressive and meaty performance since she won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 12 Years a Slave. Her turn as Red is the more technically impressive — that voice alone — but I’d argue that Adelaide requires even more subtlety. Even at her most carefree, there’s a shadow lurking within, one we don’t even quite realize is there until it’s too late.

Having a Black family as the stand-in for all-American suburban affluence already subverts some tired genre tropes, but Peele doesn’t stop there. While Gabe puts on a showy display of macho fierceness that ends in utter failure, Zora becomes the unlikely family savior, wielding a golf club with the fury of the Bear Jew from Inglourious Basterds.

Us’ greatest weakness is that it is both full of huge, complex ideas worthy of analysis, but also a plot that falls apart if you think about them too much. The class allegory that posits that the privileged few never gives a second thought to those linked to them — by virtue of their humanity if nothing else — until they’re being physically threatened is one that is worth careful consideration. But aside from Red, who communicates with Adelaide in a wheezy flap of a voice only rarely used, these doppelgangers feel more like zombies than our worst selves reflected back, and the big finale relies on a wordy information dump that’s more telling than showing. It’s messy, and a little clunky, but more than that, having loose ends tied up so neatly cheapens the message. Things are scarier when they aren’t explained.

Still, Us feels like an appropriately ambitious follow-up for Peele. It’s larger in scope, creative, and bold. And if Nyong’o isn’t nominated for an Oscar, the Academy deserves to have its own Tethered unleashed in protest.

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March 20, 2019

How PLL: Perfectionists Connects To The Original Hit Series

You can take the girls out of Rosewood drama, but you can never really take the Rosewood drama out of the girls. At least, that’s certainly how it feels looking at the brand new Pretty Little Liars series, The Perfectionists. Just because A has finally been unmasked once and for all and for good (dear god, at least I hope), that doesn’t mean that the drama can’t continue on in other ways.

While ThePerfectionists is very much its own show, it’s got original PLL DNA all over it, and not just because two former Liars are at the center of the show once again. The Perfectionists is based off a book series by the same name, written by Sara Shepard who also helmed the Pretty Little Liars series. The Perfectionists takes places in Beacon Heights, Oregon, which is some odd 3,000 miles away from Rosewood, Pennsylvania. The new PLL follows a group of students at Beacon Heights University who are all, you guessed it, striving for excellence and, “the stress of needing to be perfect leads to the town’s first murder. Behind every Perfectionist is a secret, a lie, and a needed alibi."

It’s important to know that the book doesn’t exist in the same PLL universe — it’s a completely separate stand-alone series. But, that doesn’t mean the show can’t have some familiar faces front and center to connect it to the prior events back in Rosewood. Depending on how you feel, Alison DiLaurentis (Sasha Pieterse) and Mona Vanderwaal (Janel Parrish) might be the last people you ever expect to show up here. But those are the exact two who have left Rosewood (and Europe) behind for Beacon Heights.

Clearly in search of a fresh start and a new life without any Red Coats, Alison joins Beacon Heights University as a faculty member as a teacher’s assistant in order to get her master’s degree. We saw Alison take up a teaching career at the end of Pretty Little Liars, and clearly she’s kept up with it, and has now sought out a brand new career path in academia. Even though she went through a whole lot of stuff in Rosewood, Alison’s clearly got a pretty good resume to her name.

But, it appears as if Alison has left some things behind, as Emily (Shay Mitchell) is nowhere to be seen in The Perfectionists — at least not yet. At the end of Pretty Little Liars, let us not forget that Alison and Emily were engaged, and had just adopted twins. But, just because Emily and the twins aren’t in Beacon Heights themselves, it sounds like they’ll be there in spirit. Talking to TV Guide, showrunner I. Marlene King explained that Alison came to “Beacon Heights because an opportunity arises that she can't pass up. It's very hard for her to leave Emily and the babies, but we will understand as the first 10 episodes play out what's happened in that relationship, why it's happening and why Alison is so far away from Emily."

At least Alison will have one familiar face: Mona. Last we saw Mona, she was in Paris selling creepy dolls to French children and also had Alex (aka, the big bad A.D.) and Mary locked up in the basement. The Perfectionists takes place two years after the finale of Pretty Little Liars, so let’s hope these two are out of the basement by now…

And, it’s a job at Beacon Heights University that has brought Mona stateside as well, and it’ll be interesting to see how Alison and Mona get along this time around.

The released promos for the series have included a few callbacks to notable references from the Pretty Little Liars universe, so the connections to the original series might be even deeper than just Alison and Moana hanging around.

Let’s just leave the dollhouses and twins behind once and for all.

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Teens have less face time with their friends – and are lonelier than ever

Teens aren't necessarily less social, but the contours of their social lives have changed. pxhere

Ask a teen today how she communicates with her friends, and she’ll probably hold up her smartphone. Not that she actually calls her friends; it’s more likely that she texts them or messages them on social media.

Today’s teens – the generation I call “iGen” that’s also called Gen Z – are constantly connected with their friends via digital media, spending as much as nine hours a day on average with screens.

How might this influence the time they spend with their friends in person?

Some studies have found that people who spend more time on social media actually have more face time with friends.

But studies like this are only looking at people already operating in a world suffused with smartphones. They can’t tell us how teens spent their time before and after digital media use surged.

What if we zoomed out and compared how often previous generations of teens spent time with their friends to how often today’s teens are doing so? And what if we also saw how feelings of loneliness differed across the generations?

To do this, my co-authors and I examined trends in how 8.2 million U.S. teens spent time with their friends since the 1970s. It turns out that today’s teens are socializing with friends in fundamentally different ways – and also happen to be the loneliest generation on record.

Less work, but fewer hangs?

After studying two large, nationally representative surveys, we found that although the amount of time teens spent with their friends face to face has declined since the 1970s, the drop accelerated after 2010 – just as smartphones use started to grow.

Compared with teenagers in previous decades, iGen teens are less likely to get together with their friends. They’re also less likely to go to parties, go out with friends, date, ride in cars for fun, go to shopping malls or go to the movies.

It’s not because they are spending more time on work, homework or extracurricular activities. Today’s teens hold fewer paid jobs, homework time is either unchanged or down since the 1990s, and time spent on extracurricular activities is about the same.

Yet they’re spending less time with their friends in person – and by large margins. In the late 1970s, 52 percent of 12th-graders got together with their friends almost every day. By 2017, only 28 percent did. The drop was especially pronounced after 2010.

Today’s 10th-graders go to about 17 fewer parties a year than 10th-graders in the 1980s did. Overall, 12th-graders now spend an hour less on in-person social interaction on an average day than their Gen X predecessors did.

We wondered if these trends would have implications for feelings of loneliness, which are also measured in one of the surveys. Sure enough, just as the drop in face-to-face time accelerated after 2010, teens’ feelings of loneliness shot upward.

Among 12th graders, 39 percent said they often felt lonely in 2017, up from 26 percent in 2012. Thirty-eight percent said they often felt left out in 2017, up from 30 percent in 2012. In both cases, the 2017 numbers were all-time highs since the questions were first asked in 1977, with loneliness declining among teens before suddenly increasing.

A new cultural norm

As previous studies have shown, we did find that those teens who spent more time on social media also spent more time with their friends in person.

So why have in-person social interactions been going down, overall, as digital media use has increased?

It has to do with the group versus the individual.

Imagine a group of friends that doesn’t use social media. This group regularly gets together, but the more outgoing members are willing to hang out more than others, who might stay home once in a while. Then they all sign up for Instagram. The social teens are still more likely to meet up in person, and they’re also more active on their accounts.

However, the total number of in-person hangs for everyone in the group drops as social media replaces some face-to-face time.

So the decline in face-to-face interaction among teens isn’t just an individual issue; it’s a generational one. Even teens who eschew social media are affected: Who will hang out with them when most of their peers are alone in their bedrooms scrolling through Instagram?

Higher levels of loneliness are just the tip of the iceberg. Rates of depression and unhappiness also skyrocketed among teens after 2012, perhaps because spending more time with screens and less time with friends isn’t the best formula for mental health.

Some have argued that teens are simply choosing to communicate with their friends in a different way, so the shift toward electronic communication isn’t concerning.

That argument assumes that electronic communication is just as good for assuaging loneliness and depression as face-to-face interaction. It seems clear that this isn’t the case. There’s something about being around another person – about touch, about eye contact, about laughter – that can’t be replaced by digital communication.

The result is a generation of teens who are lonelier than ever before.

The Conversation

Jean Twenge does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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