Ever since it was announced I have been eagerly awaiting the latest horror feature from Jordan Peele, “Us”. “Get Out” was one of my favorite movies of 2017 bringing everything I love from a film to the table. It was artistic, had something to say, and balanced a certain quality of entertainment that made it fun even for those who chose to overlook its underlying message. That film earned Peele a Best Original Screenplay Oscar and helped him escape his comedic background to be considered a new face in artistic horror. It set a bar that any filmmaker would have a tough time topping or even matching in their sophomore effort. So, there was certainly a lot of pressure and expectation with his second horror film, especially from me as I went in hoping for something that would challenge me as a viewer even more than “Get Out”. While not everyone has come to enjoy “Us” it does succeed in capturing the same creativity and suspenseful creepiness expected of it and offers a neat twist and social context. But how well do all of these factors come together to create the final product? Well let’s take a look, shall we? This is my review of Jordan Peele’s “Us”.
“Us” was written, produced and directed by Jordan Peele and focuses on an African American family composed of Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and her two children Zora (Shahadi Wright) and Jason (Evan Alex) who take a trip to a beach house in Santa Cruz. Adelaide suffers from repressed memories of an experience in Santa Cruz from her childhood where she wandered away from her family and encountered a doppelgänger of herself inside a boardwalk attraction. While in Santa Cruz Adelaide begins to feel uncomfortable and fears that the doppelgänger is preparing to find her again. On their first night in the beach house, Adelaide’s fear comes true as her doppelgänger, named Red, along with copies of the other family members invade the home. What unfolds is a conflict of life and death as the family attempts to one-up their copies who seek to replace them. As the story unfolds we learn a much larger conspiracy may be at hand.
So, I’ll come right out with it. Jordan Peele has done it again. “Us” is an amazing movie, even if it’s not quite the perfect work of art I had hoped for. Because there are so few flaws, I’ll start with those first. “Us” suffers from some pretty basic and minor issues that are easy to overlook due to the quality of the rest of the product but should be mentioned regardless because they certainly do exist. I wasn’t the biggest fan of some of the clichés and script choices that were made especially in the first act. It’s clear that Jordan Peele wanted to pay homage to the seemingly required elements of a typical genre film, and maybe even add to this movie’s underlying theme of dualities and self-reflection, but they feel out of place in “Us”. Small details like the daughter being overly obsessed with her phone and wi-fi, the son having an odd quirk where he likes to wear a Wookie mask, the dad trying unsuccessfully to look cool by dabbing and the use of terms like “Vodka-o’-clock” feel well below this movie’s level of sophistication. Thankfully these clichés are quickly forgotten once the story kicks into gear and more effective and fun moments of levity take their place. However, what never disappeared for me was this constant feeling that I knew where the big twist was going to come from. It’s practically telegraphed, or it was for me anyway, in the first act and once it’s revealed in the finale I found it a bit underwhelming. Not because it was a bad twist. Far from it. The twist actually helps drive home the deeper concepts of the film quite well. I just found it terribly predictable which took the fun out of the reveal for me even though that reveal was well executed.
With all that said though “Us” is a spectacular movie that rises above its flaws to provide yet another amazing cinematic achievement from Peele. These are the kinds of movies I love to watch and review because there’s so much to discuss and talk about. For starters, the performances are awesome despite a few characters being a bit exaggerated and over the top. Lapita Nyong’o specifically is amazing in this film but considering everyone had to play two different versions of themselves I think the cast as a whole deserves a lot of praise and credit for pulling it off so convincingly. It’s because of these performances that the setup works so well. I almost expected the idea of doppelgängers in a horror film to be one of those gimmicks that wouldn’t pay off, but Jordan Peele went all in with this idea and even expands it beyond the scope of the central characters exploring how this idea could create chaos in the world at large. It’s a very creepy and spooky setup and scenario that, like most great horror films, makes you wonder how you would react if you were faced with the same terror. Peele and the cast also avoid making these doppelgängers simple generic movie monsters. They’re very human in their presentation and contain personalities that are somehow fully fleshed out by nothing more than grunts, gestures and facial expressions. In fact, a lot of times the doppelgängers feel more realized than the characters they match with, and somehow I feel like this was on purpose. It makes “Us” a spooky, effective and genuinely uncomfortable viewing experience that uses its setup to show us one thing: that sometimes the scariest things may be ourselves.
And that to me is the fascinating concept I took away from this movie. For the sake of avoiding spoilers or influencing your own expectations of the film’s meaning I won’t delve too much into my opinions here, but I do feel it’s worth discussing a little bit because “Us” does have a lot to say and it’s up to you how to react to its examination of humanity. “Us” has no concrete meaning on the surface leaving the interpretation of the film in the hands of the viewers. For me, it’s a fantastic look at the dualities of humanity with the doppelgängers representing the inner evils, or in some cases even more improved representations of their real-world counterparts. That would explain why at some points it almost feels like we’re supposed to relate to the copies more than the real people. “Us” challenges the viewer to wonder who is truly worse, the doppelgängers or the people they match up with? As we learn how these doppelgängers came to be it also begs to question the ideas of tribal mentality, societal control, and pacification as well as identity and what aspects make us truly human versus what parts of our personalities are more manufactured or falsified for the sake of comfort and conformity. I didn’t quite see as much racial subtext as I did with “Get Out”, but the beauty of “Us” is that it begs you to dig deeper into what it wants to say and to examine its narrative through your own eyes to come to your own conclusion.
I’d actually concede that “Us” is a much deeper and better handled film than “Get Out” and comes off as a lot less pretentious. Don’t get me wrong, “Get Out” is a fantastic film with racial subtext that is well blended into the story to avoid being too self-important, but “Us” does this a little better and leaves open many more possibilities of how its story can be interpreted. It forces viewers to think about what Jordan Peele is trying to say and around every turn Peele plants little, tiny details that hint at his movie’s larger themes without ever telling you outright what you’re supposed to see or believe. Except for one element which is the film’s final twist, something I’ll admit could have been left without a revelation for the audience to ponder over on their own. Regardless it’s the open-ended nature of the story that made this movie a hell of a lot of fun because every time a new element was added, whether through bloodshed, storytelling or a surprising reveal, it made me contemplate what the film was trying to prove. I could invest in the film intellectually or I could just enjoy it for what it is on the surface without having to think too hard about it. Either way, it left me thinking well beyond the credits and wanting to watch it all over again to appreciate it even more. That same balance was worked into “Get Out”, but I think “Us” does it much more evenly and cleanly making it one of those films you can enjoy as an excellent and suspenseful horror feature or as an unrelenting criticism of self-identity and society.
And I haven’t even talked about the style, shooting and musical score yet. Beyond the underlying themes, great acting and suspense “Us” has a great quality to it as a work of cinema in general. Jordan Peele has a keen eye for what makes a great shot, what makes great characters and how horror doesn’t always have to be about jump scares. In fact, there are very few jump scares in the movie as most of the scariest aspects of the picture come from how prepared and ruthless the doppelgängers are and the concept alone of a literal battle for survival against yourself. Peele’s spectacular filmmaking style is presented through great camerawork, a creepy and fitting musical accompaniment that builds on the intense snippets we heard in the movie’s trailers, and even the finer details like lighting, set design and how long the camera stays on a specific shot. I know I keep comparing this film to “Get Out”, but there’s a reason for it. All of these elements were present in Jordan Peele’s first movie and they’re exemplified again, perhaps even more impressively, this time around. When it’s all said and done, “Us” is not just a deep examination of humanity in horror form, it’s also just a well done cinematic production in general.
I could go on and on all day about what I thought about this movie, but I’m just going to tie it all together by saying this is a must see in my eyes and I don’t say that very often. Jordan Peele proves once again that he is a true talent by going above and beyond the expectations left from his first film by taking more risks, providing more scares and creating a piece of horror art that makes you think and keeps you sufficiently entertained. Regardless of whether you’re just looking for a unique and original scary movie or something with a little more depth “Us” offers plenty to tide you over and if you’re hoping for BOTH of those things from your visit to the cinema “Us” is a rare treat that balances your investment either way. There is some room for improvement, especially in the script and Peele’s dependence on cultural clichés that MAY make “Us” feel a bit dated in ten to twenty years, but these are very small blemishes on an otherwise amazing movie that is certainly among the best horror films of the last decade and maybe even beyond that. Even 24 hours after watching it I’m still thinking about it as if I just walked out of the theater and that’s a testament to everything “Us” has to offer. It only makes me more excited to see what Jordan Peele does next.