Late Movie Review: ‘Us’ (EDITED)
Plot: In 1986 young Adelaide Thomas (Lupita Nyong’o) on vacation at the Santa Cruz beach, strays from her family and enters a funhouse. There she encounters a doppelganger of herself. Traumatized by the event, she subsequently loses her ability to speak for a short time. Years later Adelaide Wilson (now married) travels back to Santa Cruz with her husband Gabe Wilson (Winston Duke) and children Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex). After a strange encounter on the same beach, the family finds themselves terrorized at their lake house by the Tethered, doppelgangers of themselves.
Review: Two years ago director Jordan Peele made his debut with Get Out, a socially relevant and highly entertaining horror film that went on to score huge box office numbers and capture numerous awards. With his sophomore effort Us, Peele again delivers a layered, dynamic, and cinematic visual feast. Although it doesn’t quite reach the heights of Get Out, it nonetheless proves that Peele is a directorial force to be reckoned with.
In some ways Us is a very difficult movie to review in that it is so hard to pin down. As a straight horror vehicle it delivers some shocking and gruesome scares. A scene involving the Wilson’s friends the Tylers is particularly harrowing. The Wilson doppelgangers are also inherently terrifying with Adelaide’s Tethered character Red speaking in a raspy cold voice and Jason’s doppelganger Pluto burned beyond recognition and constantly playing with a lighter. Each of the doppelgangers possesses distinct, sometimes flailing movements that are so eerie as to be damn near otherworldly.
Yet Us also functions as biting social commentary on a number of fronts. Classism and consumerism are clearly the focal points. However, our own “tethered” connection to technology and even familial relationships come into play. Yet through it all, the commentary never feels obvious, heavy-handed, or manipulative.
That last is a testament to the writing and directing prowess of Jordan Peele. If you had told me five years ago that Jordan Peele in 2019 would be one of the leading and dynamic voices in not just the horror genre but cinema in general, I would have told you to get your head out of the Sunken Place. But here we are. It is truly astonishing what Peele is able to achieve with the visual medium. There are shots and images from this film that still linger in my mind weeks after having seen the movie. In fact their nature feels almost Kubrickian by comparison. I realize that’s high praise but it’s the closest thing I could draw a connection to. Credit also goes to Mike Gioulakis who once again bears the cinematography workload and realizes Peele’s vision flawlessly.
Peele also has a keen ear for how to use music as well. Michael Abels’ score is haunting but the real star is the soundtrack and how certain songs are employed. The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” is forever ruined for me because of this movie and when you see Us you’ll understand why. Moreover, from a writing standpoint, Peele utilizes comedy to provide much needed levity at various points in the film. Indeed it’s kind of surprising how funny Us is at times.
It also helps that Peele has enlisted a top-notch cast to round out Us. Winston Duke shows he’s more than just M’Baku from the MCU. His Gabe is layered and funny. He’s often the walking embodiment of Dad jokes even when he’s racking up kills against the Tethered. Joseph also shines in her film debut, pulling double duty as tech obsessed teen Zora and smiling, silent, and deadly Tethered Umbrae. But the breakout performance by far is Nyong’o. Her Adelaide and Red performances are so diametrically opposed, so fundamentally different, that it’s really a sight to see. If Nyong’o doesn’t get an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, I’ll be shocked.
You’ve probably noticed at this point that I’ve been pretty mum when it comes to revealing plot details, and that’s on purpose. Us is so delightfully bizarre and twisted that to give too much away would be tantamount to heresy. Your best bet is to just go into this thing cold. I will say that Peele definitely takes some big swings with the story especially in the third act and while most of them land some don’t. Bottom line is that the big reveal in the last half of the film is going to work for you or not. There’s no inbetween. Consequently, how you feel about the film as a whole is going to depend largely on the choices Peele makes.
Us is ultimately a movie I believe will age well and more than likely be taught in film school. It’s a film that demands repeat viewings because there is so much going on. While Us may not land with every viewer, I for one am glad that a unique and talented voice like Jordan Peele is out there making movies.
In a movie landscape that’s inundated with remakes, reboots, sequels, cinematic universes, and too often panders to the lowest common denominator, a voice like Peele’s is needed now more than ever.
My rating System:
0-1 God Awful Blind Yourself With Acid Bad
2 Straight Garbage
4 Sub Par
8 Very Good
10 A Must See