It feels like only yesterday when Jordan Peele came along and knocked us all sideways with the innovative, Oscar winning genius of Get Out. Looking back on my review for the 2017 hit, I’m surprised by how much my appreciation for the film has grown since then, with many of the mixed feelings I expressed at the time being much more in the positive column today. It’s fair to say that the hype for a new project from the man who some are already crowning the modern Hitchcock was big, and, as I prefer with a horror flick, I went in to Us knowing next to nothing about what I was in store for.
The film tells the story of Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) and her family who, on a summer vacation in Santa Cruz, find themselves being terrorised by a group of strangers, strangers who happen to look exactly like them. It’s fair to say that the less said about the plot, the better it is for an audience member going in, so I’ll do my best to express myself without giving too much away!
In a funny way, I find myself leaving Us with the same sorts of feelings that I had leaving Get Out, with my mind fighting between a love and appreciation for the concepts and metaphors, and a slightly less enthusiastic attitude towards some of the horror tropes that are carried out in order to conform to the familiar feel of the genre. It isn’t a helpful thing to say to someone who has yet to see the film in any capacity, but I can’t help but feel that Us is one of those movies that is more interesting and fun to talk about after the fact than it is during. The narrative is very ‘final third heavy’ in terms of keeping pretty much all of the important and intriguing information until the last throws of the picture, with the first two thirds settling in to a steady groove of slasher chasing and jump scares that, whilst entertaining in a dumb kind of way, do start to get a little repetitive.
Having said that, what does help keep you on the edge of your seat for this more formulaic section of the plot is a set of really interesting visuals. The ‘design’ of the strangers and the way in which that are presented in opposition to their identical ‘real’ counterparts is really arresting and unsettling to see. Unsettling is certainly the best word to describe the entire film, much more appropriate than scary because I can’t say that I was truly scared or hiding behind my hands at any point.
Critical opinion seems to be divided very much in to those who prefer the mystery and horror convention of the first two thirds of the film, and those who prefer the more exposition led final third when the plot takes on a whole new set of circumstances and things really go wild. If forced to choose, I’d probably put myself in the latter camp, but at the end of the day you can’t really have one without the other, which I suppose is the root of the somewhat mixed feelings that I have about the film in general.
There is a large and talented cast to enjoy in Us, but if I’m being honest, it’s really the Lupita Nyong’o show. As Adelaide and her identical counterpart Red, Nyong’o gives the kind of double performance that you can’t take your eyes off. I’m really digging this resurgence of amazing actresses taking on horror roles and elevating the films as a result, Toni Collette did the exact same thing just last year in the incredible Hereditary. Again, the more I say, the more I’ll ruin it for you, so just take my word for it and trust that Lupita is a boss!
Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex complete the family, all giving solid performances, Duke in particular providing some of that trademark Peele comic relief that was so expertly displayed in Get Out. It is fun and subversive to see Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker play the roles of the ‘token white family’ within the narrative, a mould that so many great actors of colour have been forced to accept in far too many stories before. It isn’t something that is heavily dwelled on, but given Peele’s talent for biting racial and social commentary, there’s no doubting the intentions.
Overall, Us is an interesting and memorable horror film. If we’re comparing Jordan Peele’s work, then there is no doubting that Get Out is the more complete feeling, polished concept picture, but as popcorn horror with an extra side of intellectual theming goes, Us is a fun and challenging ride. There are revelations and twists that take a while to get your head around afterwards, and I think, on balance, the wild concepts held within those twists are enough to override the few brief moments in the first half of the movie where I found myself quietly muttering “this is dumb” under my breath! Moral of the story? Try to wait until the end of a tale before you judge it.