Us

Posted: March 31, 2019 in Film reviews, horror, science fiction
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Directed by Jordan Peele. Starring Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker.

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In 1986 Adelaide Thomas holidays in Santa Cruz with her parents. One evening she wanders away from the boardwalk and enters a hall of mirrors where she encounters her doppelgänger. The experience is so traumatising that for a time she becomes mute and has to undergo therapy.

In the present-day Adelaide (Nyong’o) returns to Santa Cruz with her husband Gabe (Duke) daughter Zora (Wright Joseph) and son Jason (Alex). Adelaide is nervous, still haunted by events that happened as a child, but she tries to put these aside and enjoy the trip. Once there they meet up with their friends Kitty and Josh (Moss and Heidecker) and their twin daughters.

When Jason gets lost on the beach Adelaide panics. That night she explains to Gabe about her childhood trauma. He’s convinced that all she saw was her own reflection, but then the children tell them there’s a family standing in the driveway. It soon becomes clear that the family in the driveway are their doppelgängers, and they’re very, very angry…

 

In 2017 Peele’s Get Out took everyone by surprise, a smart satire that was made for peanuts yet made millions. It was Peele’s directorial debut and it immediately cemented his reputation as both a writer and director. It was clear he’d have no trouble securing the green light for any kind of follow up he wanted, and people were eager to see what he’d do next, certainly I was. I had a few issues with Get Out, it was smidgen too funny in places underscoring the dread, but on the whole it was great; original and with something to say about race.

us-movie-1553126874.jpgSad to say therefore that I came out of Us a little disappointed. If Get Out was a taut, clever film that mostly balanced scares and laughs, Us is a sprawling mess that often veers too far towards comedy and was rarely as creepy as it could have been, worst than this though, where Get Out had a great central idea and ran with it, Us feels too much like Peele has thrown as many ideas as he can against a wall, and whilst some of them stick, too many slide down to the floor.

One can’t fault the cast however, and each of them is excellent in dual roles, especially Nyong’o and Wright Joseph, with Nyong’o doing most of the heavy lifting as the leader of the ‘Tethered’. She’s superb, and they really do feel like different people, a loving mother and a malevolent attacker.

Some of the funniest moments in Get Out came courtesy of Lil Rel Howery’s TSA agent Rod, and in Us, Winston Duke takes on a similar role. He’s very funny, of course its debatable whether he should be quite as funny as he is, and that’s part of the problem with the film, because at times its so funny that it does kind of undercut the tension. Take the moment the family start comparing kill scores for example. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes you need that in horror, it’s just here it’s all very broad, and much like Rod in Get Out, at times it feels like Gabe is in a different film.

As a side note if they ever decide to gender swap the Joker, Elisabeth Moss has to be considered!

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Peele has a good eye, and there’s some good imagery at work here, lots of reflections and use of shadows to reinforce the notion of duality, he directs humour very well and he does direct some creepy moments; that said it says something when probably the creepiest moment in the film is in the first ten minutes when young Adelaide visits the hall of mirrors. Peele can also clearly write well, his dialogue and characterisations feel real. The problem is the plot, and whilst it’s a curious thing to say, this is a film that gives us too much information, but at the same time too little. Peele’s said he has a whole mythology created for the world of the Tethered, and this clearly shows, but in trying to show off some of this mythology, whilst maintaining an air of mystery, the film falls between two stools.

There’s some disturbing imagery on view in the world of the Tethered, but by showing it Peele prompts more questions that he then provides answers for (where do the jumpsuits and scissors come from, how can people survive just on rabbit, how do the Tethered know exactly where to find their above ground doubles?) and the longer the film goes on the more preposterous it becomes and the more you have to suspend your disbelief. Suspending disbelief is something I do quite well, I’m a sci-fi/horror fan so it comes with the territory, but Peele demands too much and the final act really did have me saying “seriously?” That said one of the central twists is nicely done and does work.

jordan-peele-us-movie-first-trailer-01-320x180It is intriguing, and Peele does clearly have something to say about the American underclass rising up—and it’s surely no surprise that they wear red, there’s a clear allusion to Trump supporters here, and Us also means US, but whilst this might have worked well as a 45 minute Twilight Zone style episode (and I’m still looking forward to Peele’s TZ reboot) that gets in and out before you have time to consider the ramifications, at almost two hours this film gives you far too much time to think and notice plot holes.

I didn’t hate it, and I will watch it again, knowing what kind of film it is going in might mean it goes up in my estimation, but on first viewing it’s ok but nothing special. There could have been a creepier, tauter film here. Less is more, but in the case of Us I’m afraid More is less.

 

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