REVIEW: Us

Posted by Matthew Thornton on Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Director: Jordan Peele
Writers: Jordan Peele
Starring: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss
Runtime: 116 mins
MPAA Rating: R

      Get Out was the surprise movie event of 2017 as famed comedian Jordan Peele revealed his writing and directing talents for the big screen for the first time. He self-describes his films as being “social thrillers” in that the horror, suspense, and thrills are deeply intertwined with thought-provoking social commentary. Get Out is a very tight film with no loose ends where every little oddity has a purpose or explanation that is revealed as the plot progresses; all the little details coming together to a satisfying cohesion as the movie reaches its final act are what make it such an engaging and satisfying experience. Us is a bit more ambitious film, but is it able to wrap itself up in the same level of coherency?

      Setting the story up, a family of four consisting of mom Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), dad (Winston Duke), daughter (Shahadi Wright Joseph), and son (Evan Alex) arrive in Santa Cruz planning to have a serene vacation. However, Adelaide holds a dark secret inside that haunts her. As a child, she got lost inside the hall of mirrors at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk amusement park and swears she saw a girl, not a reflection, who looked just like her. She ran away as quickly as she could but she can’t escape the feeling of dread as she returns near the scene of that scarring childhood incident. Well, it turns out she wasn’t wrong. Pretty soon a sinister twisted version of not only Adelaide but the entire family shows up at their house, and the mysterious and horrific ride begins.

      Regarding genre, this movie is a mixture of horror and comedy, and, in most cases, I dislike this combination since levity more often than not undercuts the tension built up by the horror elements and makes them far less effective. But the comedy here, particularly from Winston Duke’s character as well a lot of the physical comedy, helps distract from the straight-up goofiness of a lot of the horror elements and makes every scene a bit more nerve-wracking as the plot moves along. You are consistently wondering if its okay to laugh at the humor or if it is just a ploy to get you to let your guard down. On the whole, the comedy helps heighten the entertainment value. The second act of this film is entirely composed of well-directed, intense horror-comedy sequences which seem to be right in Peele’s wheelhouse (it makes sense considering his background) and is definitely the film’s strongest segment.

      There are a number of other positive aspects of this film that I want to highlight before I get to address all of you dying to know if it is as good or better than Get Out. First and foremost, Lupita Nyong’o gives a fantastic lead performance as both Adelaide and her dark disquieting doppelganger. I enjoyed the way her physical performance is so distinct between the two versions of herself. That being said, all of the physical performances in this film are great and the majority of the acting is believable for the most part, even from the younger actors. The camerawork, editing, soundtrack, and sound editing are all fantastic. Many out-of-the-ordinary camera angles are used such as direct overhead shots, extremely low-angle shots, and extreme closeups. I particularly liked the sequence at the beginning of the film that is filmed inside a hall of mirrors as it was aesthetically pleasing and the choice of shots helped make the sequence more unnerving. The music shifts between over-dramatic creepy choir chants to scene-specific selections from the Beach Boys, NWA, and more; trust me, it all just works. All of the editing is slick and does not resort to too many visual or audio tricks to get cheap scares out of you as lesser horror films love to do. With regards to writing, Peele skillfully works foreshadowing into both the dialogue and visuals in the earlier segments of the film. Similar to Get Out, practically every little detail in the first act alludes to something that happens or gets revealed later on. I connected a lot of them together on my first watch and thinking back I realized a few more. The film is a mentally engaging experience and that is definitely a positive.

      At the same time, this film is plagued with a variety of issues. Let me start with the characters. Besides Adelaide, there are not really any. Sure, all the members of her family have characteristics but not much depth, although this is forgivable for the type of film that it is. Furthermore, not enough is done with the character of Adelaide. With a setup involving a mirrored self, the film could have made a much stronger attempt at exploring the concept of identity, but, as far as I could interpret, there is not a lot to excavate here. Maybe my opinion will change with more viewings, but I really did not get a lot out of her character or her mirror character. As I said before, all of the performances are above average but the dialogue in much of the first act feels unintentionally awkward and unnatural to the point that it was not convincing. Also, I did not really believe the family had much chemistry on screen pre-second act, but that improved as the film progressed. The written comedy is largely hit-or-miss for me as nothing is obviously supposed to be over-the-top funny but a decent number of the off-the-cuff lines that were very clearly meant to be humorous just fell flat for me. The horror is really not all that terrifying if that is what you crave; it is mainly just weird and a bit bloody while constantly interspersed with moments of levity (though I personally thought this was a positive as I mentioned before). Overall, this movie is largely tame and does not have the boldness to do anything truly shocking.

      Structurally, this movie is sound with a first act of setup, a second act of intense action, and a third act with climax, revelation, and subversion. I mentioned the foreshadowing in the first act as a positive, but I believe in some instances it borders on excessive and lessens the impact of some later events. The second act is wonderful. However, the single biggest issue is that the third act straight up destroyed my enjoyment of the film, which leads me to…

SPOILERS

There is nothing gratuitous here, but if you are sensitive to such material and plan on seeing the movie, please skip the next paragraph

      Let me just say that the ending of this movie makes no sense. This extremely mysterious, bizarre, and horrific scenario is set up on a massive scale, and your interest is piqued. At this point in a movie, one of two things generally happen, you can explain why all this is happening or you can leave it open to interpretation. This film decides to give an explanation in a lengthy, laborious monologue that makes little sense and brings up a lot more questions than answers if you are considering everything in the context of the film’s world. As a social metaphor, I think I understand what Peele is going for here, and I do believe that a lot of how you interpret the film metaphorically is purposefully left open to interpretation, but sticking strictly to the surface-level narrative, the ending fails to reconcile many of the dangling plot threads with any sort of coherence. Next, the artistically-edited final fight is surprisingly tensionless and thoroughly anti-climactic. It just ends and that is it; there is minimal if any payoff. But wait! There is a final plot twist (M. Night Shyamalan fanboys scream in excitement). I feel as though I am missing something, but this twist was so obvious (at least the third year in a row that a high-profile movie has used a form of this plot twist) from earlier in the film to the point that I feel as though it had to be intentional. I was waiting for something more, but that was it. The movie was over. Someone please let me know if there is something I am missing about the ending of this movie because it left me extremely dissatisfied.

END SPOILERS

      All in all, this film is not that scary as a horror film, not that funny as a comedy, and not that smart on a structural or intellectual level (I would also argue not that meaningful as a social commentary but that is not really my place to say). It left me wanting more in almost every regard and the ending outright annoyed me. While Get Out is a very tight film, Us is a very loose one. That being said, I cannot take away from its merits with regards to film-making quality. Several sequences in this film are thoroughly captivating and extremely tense and feel like they could potentially be iconic horror scenes many years down the road. However, the clunky and incoherent way this film is wrapped together by the end prevents it from being a transcendent work. If you are a fan of technically well-made, visually-pleasing horror, check it out, but do not necessarily expect a deeply profound or intellectually satisfying experience.

RATING: ★★★


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