Movie Review: “Us” – Double Trouble

Written by Jeremiah Greville April 11, 2019

Jordan Peele’s newest film, Us, is the latest movie-nerd obsession to spill into the mainstream following his previous horror hit, Get Out. I’ve been excited for its release since the first trailer dropped back in December. Once again, Peele seemed to be tapping into something elemental and unspoken. The film, however, wasn’t what I expected it to be — there are twists and spoilers, which I’ll try not to give away in this review. But rest assured, the end result is truly great. By now, you’ve probably seen countless links to think-pieces about the film, and that’s because the movie begs to be dissected and discussed. It also deserves a healthy portion of praise. So, let’s dive in and do all three below.

Us stars Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, and Evan Alex as a family beset by their doppelgangers while on vacation in Santa Cruz. Each actor pulls double duty as both a regular member of the Wilson family, and as one of the mysterious ‘Tethers’ that’s come to confront them. Elizabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker also appear as friends of the family, though it’s the four leads that carry the film. Us is written and directed by Jordan Peele, and based on an old Twilight Zone episode with a similar premise, which is fitting since Peele is set to revive The Twilight Zone later this year.

“You scared of a family?”

Unlike Get Out, which was a horror-comedy sharply weighted to horror, Us is a horror film through and through. Though there are some funny moments here and there, the genre focus is clear. However, it’s not a particularly scary film, which is always a subjective topic of debate among horror fans. While there’s violence, there isn’t a lot of gore. While the imagery is unsettling, it’s not particularly taboo and doesn’t cross any unfamiliar lines. The film frankly isn’t concerned with standard horror fare or simple shocks. Rather, Peele wants to tell a story that stays with the audience long after the lights go up. And he does that by letting us in more often than he holds us back.

The tension in the slower scenes never builds up to a cheap jump scare. The characters never die off because they did silly things just to advance the plot. Nobody is killed for having sex by a lake. These horror tropes often get in the way of a good story, and stand between the audience and the effect the filmmaker wants to achieve. By avoiding so many poor decisions, Peele invites the audience to get invested and explore the situation with him. Yes, he holds some things back for eventual reveals in later scenes, but it always feels earned. Even the things that don’t make sense in the moment feel like they’ll make sense in hindsight. Because Peele trusts his audience, it’s natural that we trust him in return. And honestly, that’s a nice cozy feeling.

“What kind of white shit…?”

Us, however, isn’t a cozy film. Peele’s focus has shifted slightly from race to class (and beyond), but he hasn’t suddenly abandoned the themes that made Get Out such a success. Us still has plenty of uncomfortable and important ideas to explore, and to list or get into them here would seriously constitute spoilers. Many of these ideas are presented with a not-so-subtle genre-veneer. Some things are metaphors, others aren’t, yet none of it ever feels preachy or intellectual or pretentious. You’ll be able to catch the brunt of the meaning with little effort, but like many great works the deeper you explore the more you’ll find. You can expect some healthy conversation upon leaving the theatre.

For a movie about doppelgangers, Peele does pepper the film with a healthy dose of mirror-image symbolism. There are repeated simple elements, like certain numbers and angles and images, as well as certain phrases and movements that call back throughout the film. Us is certainly worth at least one repeat viewing to catch everything. The attention paid to composition in many scenes makes the film a visual delight, and the music is incredible as well. Songs from the soundtrack are replayed and remixed at different times, while the score stabs with screechy strings and pound away with foreboding beats. It’s honestly a flick that’s firing on all cylinders — but I have yet to mention the most impressive element of all: the acting.

“Too many twins, man.”

Each of the four leads is astounding in their duel roles. Winston Duke is delightful as the everyman-dad Gabe and terrifying at the same time as the brutish red-suited Abraham. Both of the child actors own their roles and prove their immense talent as well. Shahadi Wright Joseph goes from sarcastic teenager to psychotic killer with an unnerving grin, and Evan Alex plays both quiet child Jason and the wild animalistic Pluto. But it’s Lupita Nyong’o who steals the show as Adelaide and Red, speaking in a terrifying, guttural croak as the dark reflection of herself. She’s incredible, and seeing her act opposite herself on screen is astounding.

There’s no glaring flaw that I can point out. Us is a good film, and will please the vast majority of people excited to see it. But like any movie, it won’t be for everyone. I spent the first half of the film guessing at certain twists and plot reveals, and was surprised at what I ultimately got right and wrong. If you think you know exactly what the film is about without seeing it, you may be disappointed or in for a shock. And even after seeing the damn thing, that question is still a bit up for debate. But the surface level horror thriller presented is a good enough to make it all worthwhile, and the lingering questions feel more like dessert than they do homework. Us continues Jordan Peele’s hot-streak, and if you’re interested at all, you should definitely see it.

And then probably see it again.

My Rating: 8/10

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About Jeremiah Greville

Jeremiah Greville is a pretty rad beard that's attached itself to a human face. The beard likes movies, television, comic books, and gentle finger rubs. The human likes pizza and sleep. When they work together, they write reviews. Hope you enjoy them!

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