Me, You, Us
Us is written and directed by Jordan Peele and stars Lupita Nyong'o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Elisabeth Moss, and Tim Heidecker.
Jordan Peele's directorial debut, 2017's Get Out, was my favorite film to have been released during that year. I was head over heels about Get Out's incredible blend of comedy and horror, its entertainment value, and its thematic depth about slavery and the ill-advised superiority that certain white people feel they have over black people. So naturally, I was super excited to hear that Jordan Peele was coming back with another original horror film that, while not necessarily about racism and a battle between black people and white people, it was going to offer a similar sort of thematic depth and entertainment value, thus establishing Peele as one of the most gifted and inventive horror directors of the 21st century.
It turns out Us is not nearly as good as Get Out, but nevertheless, I won't hesitate to say that Us will be one of the best horror films of 2019, because, even if the thought-provoking content isn't as strong as it was in Get Out, it still is thought-provoking content, and that's something that's pretty tough to come by in mainstream horror films nowadays. Jordan Peele has also shown to have the talent for giving his films an entertainment value that can satisfy the most undemanding viewers: those who don't really care to talk about racism or slavery and are just there to have a good time. So I guess what I'm trying to say is that Us is like a good, but not great version of Get Out, in which there is thought-provoking content and entertaining scenes, except that neither are on par with what Jordan Peele delivered to us the first time around.
The plot of Us follows the Wilson family, who are out on vacation at a family beach house in Santa Cruz. The family consists of wife Adelaide (Lupita Nyong'o), husband Gabe (Winston Duke), daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph), and son Jason (Evan Alex). Adelaide is anxious about the trip, because Santa Cruz is the same place where she had a traumatic childhood experience: One night in 1986, the young Adelaide (Madison Curry), wanders off from her family carnival trip and stumbles upon a funhouse, where she enters a hall of mirrors and finds another little girl that looks exactly like her. In the present, Adelaide's worst fears are realized when a family of four breaks into the beach house and attacks the Wilsons. The family of four turn out to be doppelgangers of the Wilsons, led by Adelaide's double named Red. Red is the only doppelganger that speaks, sounding like a mortally wounded animal that's on its last few breaths.
I'll stop the plot summary right there. The only other thing I'll mention is that there's far more to Us' plot than being just a home invasion story in which the intruders have some special characteristic so that the home invasion scenario will stand out from other, generic home invasion scenarios. Us eventually transcends into a story that has suggested interpretations like the struggle of classism and how Us is meant to be a play on "U.S." aka United States. There's a line where Red says, "we're Americans", and that's evidence to suggest that Peele is taking a stab at how messed up a lot of American society is. I'm all for these various takes on what the film is about at its deepest, darkest level. I just wish that the execution was better, so that I could feel more enlightened about what ideas and themes were running through my head as I sat down to process this movie in the few days after I saw it in theaters.
- Easily the best part of Us is a slam-dunk performance by Lupita Nyong'o, whom you might best remember from her supporting role in 2018's Black Panther. There's typically a lot of demand for an actress if she's the main character of a horror film, and Us is no exception, as Nyong'o has to play, "terrified mother trying to protect her family" and "traumatized person struggling with the event that caused said trauma", all on top of a lot of fighting and struggling she does with the doppelgangers. Nyong'o thrives in every role her character has to play, bringing a kind of raw, honest energy that hadn't been tested at all in films like Black Panther or Queen of Katwe. The kind of work required of Nyong'o here involves a lot more sweaty, hard-nosed labor, and largely without the benefits of CGI or other wacky digital effects. She proves more than capable of what is required of her, and the result is a true break-out performance that could see Nyongo's career expand even more in the coming years. Unfortunately, the Academy seems hell-bent on ignoring any and all performances in horror-movies, so it's highly unlikely we'll see Nyong'o get any sort of nomination in 2020. What a shame.
- I give Jordan Peele all the credit in the world for the new batch of ideas he brings to his sophomore feature, which is why it's unfortunate how the screenplay is pretty shaky in other areas. The set-ups and foreshadowing of future events are not at all subtle, and that's a disappointment because Get Out proved Peele knows how to be extremely clever with foreshadowing. For example, we watch Jason accidentally lock himself in a closet at the beach house, and everyone and his brother should be thinking, "Hmm, I wonder if that locked closet will come into play later on." Instead of a bunch of satisfying, "Hey! I remember that from early in the film!" moments, Us contains far too many, "Yep. I saw that coming" moments. The only true surprise of the film comes at the very end, which is quite refreshing considering how you can see the several other revelations coming from ten miles away.
It would have taken Jordan Peele the effort of a lifetime for him to top Get Out, so I guess that's to say it was to be expected for Peele's second horror film, Us, to be on a somewhat inferior level. Nonetheless, Us shows more bright flashes of Jordan Peele's undeniable film-making talent, as well as more excitement for what he can bring for the future of the genre. The thought-provoking story and the remarkable lead performance from Lupita Nyong'o make this for one of the more stand-out horror films in recent memory, alongside the likes of Get Out, Hereditary, and A Quiet Place. Unfortunately, Peele's script is not as sharp as before, evident in predictable set-ups that end up leaving us with few to no real surprises. Overall, a perfectly satisfying horror film, but one that missed its chance to be something great.
Recommend? Yes, I'd recommend seeing it.
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