REVIEW: “Us”

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After the enormous success of “Get Out” writer-director Jordan Peele found himself the object of near universal acclaim. Since the earliest screenings of his sophomore effort “Us” the acclamation has only intensified. He has already been heralded as “the new Hitchcock” and “the next Spielberg”. And one blurb has christened his newest movie “The Best Horror Film of All Time”. That’s an absurd level of praise and completely unfair to a filmmaker with only two movies under his belt.

“Get Out” was a movie full of big ideas but hardly what you would call groundbreaking execution. The sheer audacity of its story seemed to be enough for most people to overlook its gaping plot holes and third act sloppiness. “Us”, same genre but a much different movie, suffers from none of those same problems. In fact, it turns out to be a fascinating mélange of smart, well-measured comedy and straight-forward psychological horror but with a host of extra flavors tossed in. Most importantly, it’s a wonderfully original bit of horror which is something the genre is always in need of.

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Peele begins his chilling and twisted tale with a really well crafted prologue set in 1986. On the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk a young girl named Adelaide wanders off from her parents and into a rinky-dink funhouse. She’s found there shortly after but not before a traumatizing encounter leaves her shaken to the core.

Jump ahead to the present day. A grown-up Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) arrives at her family’s lakeside vacation home with her garrulous and daffy husband Gabe (Winston Duke), their early-stage teen rebel daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph), and their precocious young son Jason (Evan Alex). Adelaide hasn’t shared her childhood trauma with Gabe who is understandably confused when she pushes back on his plans for an afternoon at Santa Cruz Beach.

Adelaide gives in and they head to the beach to hang out with fellow upper middle-classers Josh and Kitty Tyler (played by Tim Heidecker and Elizabeth Moss) and their two snooty daughters. But when Jason wanders off it’s deja vu for Adelaide. She finds her son but is clearly rattled and the family outing is cut short. Back at the lakehouse Adelaide and Gabe are hashing it out when Jason notices a creepy family lurking in the driveway. If you’ve seen the trailers you know these aren’t just pesky neighbors. They’re doppelgängers – ghoulish copies of Adelaide and her family. But what do they want and where are they from?

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I’d be doing a major disservice if I went any further because the less you know the better the experience. Let’s just say the terror kicks in and “Us” takes the early form of a home invasion flick. But as it ventures further down Peele’s rabbit hole it slyly and in some instances gruesomely branches into several frightening new directions.

This is also where Peele’s interest in duality comes fully into focus. It’s seen not only within the narrative and the characters but also the cast members who play both the family of four and their macabre copies. All of them are good but it’s Nyong’o who shines brightest (Oscar I hope you’re watching?). When she steps into the skin of Red, her sinister other self, her performance takes on an otherworldly aura. From her eerie off-kilter mannerisms to her gurgling voice laced with a menacing wheeze. It’s fabulously unsettling.

You could argue that Peele has too much on his mind and that he has a hard time corralling his plethora of ideas and themes. Strangely I actually see its broader ambition as a strength. “Get Out” had a much tighter focus but its delivery was messier. With “Us” the aim may be a little messy but Peele brings it together with sharp instincts and a better grasp of scene-to-scene storytelling and tension-building. Best of all he maintains a level of uncertainty and ambiguity which allows for a variety of interpretations depending on the set of eyes you’re looking through. And oh how well he uses Michael Abels’ brilliantly chilling score.

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While “Us” is not specifically about race Peele has intimated his desire for audiences to see a black family as simply that – a black family and nothing more. But even that is a sly way of challenging his viewers. Much of “Us” works that way – dealing with themes in subtle yet effective ways. The lone exception being a specific scene with a certain obscenity-jacked N.W.A. song blaring in the background. Funny at first, bludgeoning by the end. Most will love it but it’s the one instance where Peele gets a little sidetracked and the scene takes a hit because of it.

While many will point to “Get Out” as Jordan Peele’s seminal work, for me “Us” is the movie that puts him among those significant filmmakers to keep an eye on. What he does in “Us” isn’t stumbled upon. It comes from a shrewd understanding of his craft. He’ll have you scouring every scene for clues and digging deep for philosophical meanings. He’ll have you tense and on the edge of your seat wondering what comes next. And as he’s exploring this idea that “we all have a dark side”, he brings an entirely new meaning to the phrase ‘afraid of your own shadow’.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS

 

4-5-stars

39 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Us”

    • Definitely see it again. I wrote this over the weekend but wasn’t satisfied with my feelings. So I saw it again yesterday and was even more impressed. I was a bit cautious since I’m one of the few who didn’t fully buy into Get Out. But Peele sold me here. The guy has got some serious filmmaking chops.

  1. Nice review, very enthusiastic! I just wrote mine and I must admit that I didn’t enjoy Us as much as you did: the story didn’t convince me, even though from a technical point of view it’s a flawless movie!

    • I’m interested to read your thoughts. I’ll admit the story really sucked me in. And I do love the loose ends he leaves especially since he has stated he may be returning to his “Us” world sometimes in the future. Was it the twist you found unconvincing or some of the relationships?

      • Thank you! If you want, you can read the review I wrote here:

        https://vengonofuoridallefottutepareti.wordpress.com/2019/03/25/us-a-confused-movie-mashup-english/

        As for what I found unconvincing, it’s not the twist per se (that I somehow expected and liked), but it has more to do with the world building.

        Entering spoiler territory here: are the creatures bound to copy the movements of the alter egos on the surface? It seems that sometimes they are, sometimes not. Why?
        How did they build all the scissors and red uniforms down there? How come no one ever noticed their existence? How does the creation of doppelgangers work?

        Many things are left unexplained and I would be ok with that if I could imagine some decent explanation but… I’m afraid they’re unexplained because it’s impossible to explain them. That makes for sloppy story telling on my book, but it’s just my opinion based on my feeling in the cinema! Should Peele revisit the Us universe I would be curious to see how he would develop the world further!

      • Good questions and a couple of them popped into my head. I really like something Peele said prior to the films release. He said he actually had a detailed mythology for every single thing he puts on screen. Things like the red jumpsuits and scissors. Even the mystery of the dopplegangers. And the idea he has thrown out about revisiting this “Us” world really excites me namely because there is still so much to explore. But honestly I think the details of the Tethered is secondary to the other things on Peele’s mind.

        I’ll definitely be checking out your review. Appreciate the link.

  2. You’re review is a strange one for me. You argue your points so well it makes me second guess my own opinion lol. I really didn’t like this film at all, but maybe I just didn’t understand it well enough.

    • That’s such a kind thing to say. I was pretty blown away by this. I had to see it a second time to really cement my thoughts. It’s a crazy one for sure but it has so much going on underneath. I really need to get over and read your review.

  3. We are completely opposite here 🙂 I found no holes in script for Get Out while this was just….bad. Instead of calling him next Spielberg they should call him next Shyamalan for how steep and rapid fall from excellence this was. Execution was top notch but that script was so lazy

    • I just never could get over my issues with “Get Out”. (SPOILERS) In terms of plot holes, it was almost laughable to believe any of it was remotely plausible. How could Rose think she could get away with it when the TSA guy knew she was taking Chris to meet the parents. Even sillier is that all of these people have gone missing and none of the families or friends have connected Rose to their disappearances? And I still laugh at the box of pictures conveniently sitting in the middle of an open closet. Talk about Peele tipping his hand before what should have been his big reveal. Anyway…I’m just rambling now. LOL 🙂

      • I thought it was iimplied the maid in moments of coherence opened it.and peele at least had scenes establishing cops didnt really care about missing Black guys. Us is just riddled with plot holes

      • Interesting. I don’t remember the maid opening it. Maybe so though. And I did think about the Peele making a statement about cops being uninterested. But what about all of those families and friends? Was Lil Rel the only one either smart enough or with guts enough to get something done? Either way, both are fun movies to dissect.

  4. I liked Get out because the story is far simpler. In Us, I think the story got too complicated for its own good. I’m not saying I didn’t understand what was going on, I think I understood a good deal. What I don’t understand is why Peele found it necessary to explicitly feed us the information at the end. It sort of tied the film together but was still messy. There’s just too many things going on in Us. The beginning is slow but once the doppelgangers enter the picture everything else seems rushed and fast-paced. I wish Peele would have taken more time to explore the family and the doppelgangers alone, not making this into something bigger. I would have liked to see this film take a more psychological horror approach rather than a fantasy approach. The only characters Peele should have focused on was the family and their doppelgangers. The white family subplot did not add anything for me and neither did the underground tethered world. Then again, I know Peele was trying to make a broader statement. The tethered beings as Americans were left behind in the tunnels, just likes so many minorities/immigrants in the American modern world. Okay, I get that. But Peele I wanted horror!! I wanted each character to face their individual fears whether it was their fear of heights, fear of death, fear of whatever! The doppelgangers could have represented their fears. But we didn’t’ see that! I honestly expected this film to be more so about family drama like Hereditary. There are too many outside factors involved and too many other characters that complicated the story. I wanted simpler! I wanted a horror! I wanted a family drama! Thank you for reading! Thank You for the Review!

    • Great thoughts and I really appreciate the point of view. I think one of the great things about movies like this one is how they provoke us to share different thoughts. I’m a sucker for that.

      I do understand a lot of where you are coming from. I actually liked how Peele opened up a lot of things but didn’t get sidetracked explaining it all. Of course when you do that you run the risk of pushing back those who do want to know more about the world. I get that. Me, I liked the mystery that we are left with (and that provides material for Peele to revisit down the road).

      And I also get what you’re saying about wanting the doppelgangers to represent their fears (that would have been a much different but compelling movie). But I kinda like that Peele didn’t go that route in this case. I liked how the ending left the Tethered as more than just reflections of our fears but as something a little more complicated.

      Again, great comments. “Us” definitely has a lot going on. It opens so many doors and I can see the frustrations for those wanting to walk through them. He definitely doesn’t offer that opportunity in some cases. Weirdly I found that fascinating.

      • Yes, I like the mystery as well. I like ambiguous endings and ambiguity in general as long as the audience can piece together and intrepret some coherent narrative at the end. Overexplaining is just something I see in so many movies, it really frustrates me. But this is ironically one of my minor complaints. My major complaint is that I found Us less unsettling and horrific than Get Out. I think for the most part, for me, Us is predictable. We know who the enemy is. In Get Out, much of the intrigue comes from the fact that we do not know what to expect. All we know is that something’s not right with Walter and Georgina. We sense something is coming but we do not know what exactly. This suspense, dread and horror I found more effective in Get out.

      • That’s really interesting because I found the tension in Us to be considerably more effective. I’ve said this elsewhere, but I like the ideas behind Get Out. But for me it was too preposterous to really buy into the way I would have liked. Some of that is due to plot holes while other times it was Peele tipping his hand far too early.

      • My favorite horror movie has always been Romero’s Night of The Living Dead. I adore that film. Part of it is remembering how it effected me as a kid in the 80s. Also love the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. In terms of newer films, I really went for The Conjuring. Also The Witch is high up there for me.

      • Oh I like your choices very much. TCM does it for me. I have my reservations on The Witch but it’s mostly because of the ending. It’s very atmospheric and that’s how horror films should be.

  5. I just got out of this and think it’s probably the best use of any NWA song in a movie. I enjoyed this, I preferred Get Out but they’re both very different films and the only thing they have in common is horror and a director. I’m going to need to think about this one for awhile.

    • Glad you liked it too. I’m definitely higher on Us but you’re exactly right. They are very different films. It’s funny, I wasn’t high on the NWA tune. It was funny at first but ended up doing something that annoys me. It took attention away from the action of the scene and put it on the song (at least for me).

  6. Right now, best film of 2019 so far with Lupita Nyong’o as the front runner for Best Actress. I enjoyed the hell out of this film. It was fucked up for all of the right reasons. Plus, I knew that whole Hands Across America stunt was a bad idea. All of the germs it brought as well as that false sense of American patriotism.

    • I’m glad you loved it too. It’s my favorite of the year so far as well. And you are so right. Nyong’o was nothing short of brilliant. It’s a long ways off but I can’t imagine her not getting a nomination. But with the Academy who knows.

  7. People I respect have praised this film, and you are among them. I must descent from this view. I found the film laughably plotted and empty of meaning. I was neither terrified or interested in how things played out. There were two or three jokes that played worked in the film, but I would say most of the humor was unintentional. I really liked Get Out, so I was astonished by how bad I found this film to be. I will be an outlier on this but I have to be true to my own reaction.
    If I struggle, it might be possible to create a credible theme for the film, but that would not change the execution. The laborious use of musical cues, the stereotypes of the other family, and the lack of tension in most of the key scenes was depressing.
    Those of you who admire it, I’m glad you found something you appreciated. I am left with the pleasure of mocking this in my head as I think back on it.

    • I definitely understand the feeling of being an outlier. That’s how I felt with Get Out, a movie I still believe is wildly overrated. I’m certainly in the minority there. Funny you mention the humor because I found it to not only be intentional but surprisingly organic unlike how I felt with the humor in Get Out. I can’t speak to being terrified mainly because no horror movie truly terrifies me. And since I’m never what you would call scared I look for tension and/or creepiness instead. I felt I got that with Us.

      Yet despite the high praise it’s getting I think there are more people who agree with you than agreed with me on Get Out. Talk about feeling alone on an island! 😂

  8. I just love that Peele is doing different stuff. In my mind after two films, he’s undoubtedly reached “event” status that only a few current directors have. Off the top of my head, Nolan, Tarantino, Villeneuve, Coogler, and Peele.

    • That’s super high praise and big company. He hasn’t quite reached ‘event’ status for me. But to be fair I could only name a couple who are. I gotta say though, I can’t quite thinking about “Us”. Even today I made another connection that really excited me.

  9. “He’ll have you scouring every scene for clues and digging deep for philosophical meanings.”

    This sums it all up for me and what keeps me thinking about this film a month after seeing it. I’m patiently waiting for it to hit blu ray so I can dive into it again.

  10. A good read my friend. I just got around to this the other day and I’m inclined to agree with you. I can’t get the damn film out of my head but I’m holding back on my final rating as there’s still some niggling plot developments that I have to explore again. It’s definitely a film that requires multiple viewings.

    • Hey Mark! I was the same way. Couldn’t quit thinking about it. And I legitimately went into a second viewing unsure whether it would solidify my excitement or bring me back to earth. Turns out I enjoyed it even more. Overall this was a big surprise for me.

      • I’m hoping for the same, bro. I really loved it first time round and, as it stands, I agree on 4.5. There was one niggling moment in particular though.

        *** spoiler ***

        Where the (so called) evil Nyong’o explains her history and motivation to her doppelgänger when that really wouldn’t have been necessary. I’m hoping to find an answer to that that makes more sense.

      • I know what you mean. There are some interesting and sometimes perplexing things but I really like the ambiguity of things. I need to see it again.

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