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The Surreal Sound in US


Us.poster1After the acclaimed hit Get Out, writer/director Jordan Peele followed up with yet another horror/thriller masterpiece in US. US follows Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) as she experienced a horrific traumatic incident at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk as a young girl.

Years later, she has returned to the beachfront house accompanied by her husband, daughter, and son. Unexpectedly, four strangers appear, unbeknownst these people look exactly like them.

Peele trusted his vision through supervising sound editor Trevor Gates (Get Out, Doctor Sleep) to create another immersive and surreal feeling experience through the use of sound. The thought process was to get the audience to feel a certain way as that was an integral part of the story.

US 1

Gates expanded, “Ultimately, this movie was about feeling. Jordan really wanted the actors to feel a feeling of dread or horror, but we really didn’t want to know why we felt that horror or that dread. It was finding a really delicate balance of pointed sounds, subtlety, articulation, and making you feel like you’re in the place, but giving a weight and a feel to the sound that makes you feel a little uneasy. There was one interesting sound of a pulse of the cricket that made us feel uncomfortable.

The other thing that was really important from a storytelling standpoint was that we needed to embrace the idea of duality. We really tried to find ways to interweave sounds in upfront ways and then some in not so upfront way. We took sounds of different parts of the movie and put them into other parts of the movie that the audience may not know, like we took the sound of the Whac-A-Mole and put it into the breaking down of the engine of the boat. There are half a dozen other times where we really played into the duality of the texture of things to help really bind and homogenize the concept; for Jordan that is so important in his storytelling.”

US 3

Delineating between how much sound to insert within a scene is a delicate balance of art. “It’s important to go through the motions, really investigate, discover, and explore the things that might work. It’s a really powerful focus to be able to have that internal intuition to tell it doesn’t need 24 sounds; this needs 1 or 2 sounds and really be confident in the choices. Lots of times when 20 sounds are together, it’s losing the really interesting textures and uniqueness of these individual sounds.

Being able to trust our intuition about what we think is cool, what we think is right, what we think helps the story; and be minimalistic, it really helps audience focus on the things that we want to tell them as a story maker. This is a concept of understanding intuition, making confident choices about each individual scene, and really embracing creatively what the story is trying to tell. Sometimes that’s very minimal and sometimes big and bombastic,” the sound editor enlightened.

US 5

Lupita’s damaged voice sounded like it had an effect applied, but it was mostly her performance. The sound designer described, “There was an evolution and some exploration of what Lupita’s voice ended up to be. We tried a bunch of things to add, but they were a little bit beyond organic. We wanted to make sure we could continue to suspend the disbelief of the audience. We thought if we put these sounds we created, that we might be crossing the line and making people think that wasn’t actually happening. We snuck in a few little tasty bits here and there to accentuate swallows and a couple of emotions in a handful of places. In the end, it was mostly the performance that Lupita gave.”

Trevor Gates
Trevor Gates

The music in US plays a significant role and is seamlessly integrated in the soundtrack. Gates explained, “My job is really to coexist in a homogenous manner with the entire soundtrack which means music, dialogue, sound effects, ambiences, and Foley. I do have a background in music and trained my ear to understand the relationships between sound, which is a really powerful tool. To use that specifically in music is to respect the tone, the space, the pitch of the music at any given time, and being able to build sound around music to co-exist. Being able to understand what to build when, is a really important piece.”

The sound in US was specifically intended to create a feeling of uneasiness with a focus on duality by rearranging various sounds in different parts of the film to enhance the depth and texture of the story. The music and sound design seamlessly assimilated harmoniously as a single concept providing an array of emotions and feelings for the audience.


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