'Us': A Breath of Fresh Air or More of the Same?
How does Jordan Peele's sophomore outing as a director stack up?
This past week I made the decision to check out Jordan Peele's latest project, Us (2019). This was a film I had little intention of seeing, not because it seemed uninteresting or generic, but simply because horror is a hard sell for yours truly. It is a genre I find to be not only uninspired, but plainly formulaic. So much so that I can almost completely call what a horror film will entail based purely on the trailer and title alone. With that being said, I had heard the rave reviews Get Out (2017) received, so I figured another work by visionary director Jordan Peele had some amount of potential to succeed in my own personal wringer of criteria that makes a movie good in my eyes. Per usual, I do have some thoughts on this one. Buckle up if you don't care for spoilers.
We'll kick things off with the positives as usual, because this film does a great many things right. What I mean by that is that it does make itself stand out among others in its genre. The tone and presentation give me a much more dense sense of unease as opposed to that cheesy, overdone horror movie vibe. You feel yourself ease into the story, only to quickly find that you have made a terrible mistake for the better. The story itself is something different as well for the most part, taking a different approach to the horror/thriller tale while also reigniting the way we tell stories about doppelgangers. Speaking of which, by structuring the story this way it provided for a good amount of development in our tight-knit band of characters as well as their "tethered." This not only helps flesh out the main characters personalities, who they are, and what they stand for, but it also makes it easier for the audience to settle in and feel for the characters they're observing. Standout performances of course go to Lupita N'yongo's Adelaide and Winston Duke's Abraham, as they were arguably the main characters of the story, although I'd argue this was a more in depth study of Adelaide and her doppelganger with their families along for the ride.
Aside from the characters and story, the visuals found in this film were stunning at times. With a common theme of the tale being duality, this made for some excellent cinematography opportunities. There was plenty of symbolism as well, from the white rabbits to the frequent appearance of the phrase "Jeremiah 11:11." In keeping a tight knit visual storytelling element in tune with the story, it gave viewers a whole lot more to appreciate. Of course, apart from the visual elements, the score for the film was also tremendous. It fit the narrative and the scenes we watched unfold incredibly well, providing a great backdrop for the eeriness and discomfort the film caused us all to feel. All in all, I am so incredibly glad this film did not rely on bad jump scares and recycled horror movie tropes we've seen for decades on end. It was in more ways than one a breath of fresh air for the genre. It did a great job at providing something different for horror fans while also further proving Jordan Peele as a very capable film maker and screen writer.
Yes, this movie is good, however it is still riddled with issues. For one, the story was not tremendously told. I only say that because the pacing was somewhat uneven, feeling as though there were long stretches of time where the story really didn't develop only to be rushed toward the end. Also a big issue was the way the big twist at the end was handled. Though I did not see it coming the first time through, the film always gave off a sense that there was something more to Adelaide's story, meaning we always had a gut feeling that there was more to her and her experience at the carnival. When the film did tell us, not only did it fall kinda flat in the way it was presented, but it also was explained far too "on-the-nose." The long flashback sequence explaining how her and her "tethered" swapped places all those years ago was far too direct for a film that relied on subtlety for most of its run. Also worth the mention is that there were a severe amount of inconsistencies involving the "tethered." It seemed as though they were more durable and required a lot more in order to die than the average human, yet it seemed to vary by individual. For a time it seemed as though they couldn't die, only for a different individual to drop dead at a moments notice.
Also, I have no idea how nobody discovered the "tethered" sooner, they were living underground only a few staircases from the surface. You mean to tell me not a single person went down that staircase only to come back up and say "Hey! There are people down here!"? Before I turn into CinemaSins I'll just move on to a big reservation I had with this film. It was marketed as a horror/thriller, which is accurate, however it had a great many elements of comedy to the point where it came off as distracting. There's nothing wrong with cracking a joke or two in a horror movie, we are human after all, but it just pulled me out of the experience the more it was done.
Finally, my biggest problem with Us was that it has so much potential to be something truly different and innovative in the horror genre, however by the end it falls apart for the sake of this overdone, convoluted final act that really didn't need to be there. Again, if your main calling card is psychological horror, make the fans think a little bit. There is no need to be so direct about your storytelling.
Us is something I can appreciate, I don't love it, but I can appreciate it for what it is. I'm still kinda in the dark about what all the societal allegory is (rich vs. poor? Middle class vs. the government? Someone please educate me!), but as a film itself I can understand why so many people went to go check it out. Though the more I thought about it, it did miss in a lot of ways, however when it did hit you, it hit hard. Us gets a six out of ten from me, although I may be a bit biased due to my disinterest in the horror genre. Like always, thanks for having a read.