Directed by: Jordan Peele
Premise: A family visits their beachside vacation home and is confronted by a family of murderous doppelgangers.
What Works: Us is filmmaker Jordan Peele’s follow up to 2017’s Get Out and the film is an impressive sophomore effort. On a technical level, Us is a step up from Get Out. It is more visually interesting and there are some extraordinary images in this film. Peele and cinematographer Mike Gioulakis (who also shot It Follows) use light and shadow effectively and frame the action in a way that is disconcerting. The filmmakers also use reflective surfaces in a way that plays into the dualistic themes of the story. Peele demonstrates an ability to create tension and mood, which is essential for a horror filmmaker, and Us possesses a sustained atmosphere of dread even in its bright daytime scenes. Just as successful as the frights is the comedy. Us blends humor and horror more successfully than Get Out. The comedy is specific to the family; the mother and father, played by Winston Duke and Lupita Nyong’o, banter back and forth in a way that’s humanizing and the family as a whole has a believable and likable relationship. The performances are exceptional. The cast are required to play the normal family as well as the doppelgangers and everyone commits to their roles and creates distinct characters. Nyong’o is particularly good here and both of her characters have depth that leads the film in some interesting thematic directions. Us is a horror picture and so its ultimate success hinges upon whether or not it is scary. This is a very frightening film but it is an appealing, popcorn flavor of scare that is fun even while it slips in some socio-political commentary.
What Doesn’t: Us is an ambitious film with cerebral ideas and an elaborate concept. The story is ultimately weighted down by everything that the filmmakers are trying to accomplish. The movie stops at several points to dump exposition on the audience. That information is generally well handled but the story becomes unwieldy and the end of the picture suffers from an overextended explanation that brings the story to a standstill just as the tension is ramping up to the climax. Most of the movie’s craftsmanship is excellent but the music of Us is quite ostentatious. Michael Abels’ score is good in and of itself but the music clashes with the visual style of the movie in a way that is distracting. Us also includes a variety of songs but their placement doesn’t appear to serve any purpose beyond musical whimsy.
Bottom Line: Us delivers the visceral thrills of a horror film and the picture is both terrifically crafted and well acted. It stumbles over its bigger ambitions but Us offers something a little more complex and thoughtful than the average home invasion tale.
Episode: #743 (March 31, 2019)