By Ryan Keating-Lambert
MINOR SPOILERS – read at your own risk
Us is full of big ideas and social commentaries. From racism to class divide, Jordan Peele’s latest explores some of America’s issues, but fails to do so by playing around with one too many horror conventions and sub-genres. What on earth was that?
Directed by Jordan Peele, a big name in American sketch comedy that recently turned to horror with the Oscar winning 2017 film Get Out, new horror film Us sees mother Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) and her family take a beach holiday which soon turns to chaos when their murderous doppelgängers show up on their doorstep.
A very strong and almost silent prologue featuring a young Adelaide lost in a creepy beach-side boardwalk sets a wonderful tone. It’s littered with little seeds to get Peele’s lore into your head, and its brilliantly paced and very intense. Too bad it’s all downhill, or in this case, ‘down-escalator’ from there.
Several years later, Adelaide is haunted by the traumatic encounter but reluctantly agrees to return to the Santa Cruz beach and boardwalk for a family holiday. After coincidence after coincidence begins to hint at the return of her mysterious doppelgänger, things start to turn awry, and confusing.
What little tension and art-horror remains from the prologue and the fantastic opening credit sequence soon turns to slasher home invasion horror before there’s a chance to come to grips with who anyone actually is in this film. Any and all suspense is also completely undercut by the film’s tendency to go tongue-in-cheek.
The doppelgänger Wilson family, also known as ‘the tethered’, are full of evil grins, wicked laughter, and cat-like growls and purrs, especially young Jason or ‘Pluto’ (Evan Alex) which must be a tribute to Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes. The problem here is that Peele leaves next to nothing to the imagination. The tethered, all dressed in red and sporting golden pairs of scissors, are anything but scary and Lupita Nyong’o, although quite good in the dual roles, becomes almost insufferable with ‘Red’ and her ridiculous two-pack-a-day smoker’s voice.
Between the predictable scares and the sometimes funny, but most of the time completely uncalled for, jokes and utter stupidity from husband Gabe (Winston Duke), the film continues to plow through cheap slasher horror territory until, after a series of zombie-like invasion scenes, and an intimate moment between Elisabeth Moss and a mirror, Us goes full scale – Peele’s Get Out paycheck clearly paid off.
From that moment on, Peele’s lore goes well and truly off the grid and attempts to explain itself through shaky metaphors, a dizzying Black Swan(esque) dance sequence, and rabbits… a whole lot of rabbits. Amidst the chaos of symbolism, countless plot holes and predictable twists, but by far the most frustrating thing about this film is that it still has no idea what it’s trying to be. Should I laugh or should I cry? Should I stay or should I go now?
Critics seem to love Us, and why wouldn’t they? It’s a film that uses multiple motifs and sub-texts to get its ideas across. Peele brings up some valid points about the current state of the world, and America specifically – ‘We are Americans’ replies Red when Adelaide asks who they are – even the title suggests it. Everything just gets so scrambled though. Subtle is not a word I would use to describe delivery in this film.
There’s an emphasis on the class and racial divide, perhaps a little too literally with the underground tunnel thing, and a suggestion that our actions always mirror and affect those in more unfortunate circumstances – it’s powerful stuff and incredibly relevant, just like Get Out. However, unlike Get Out, its impact is lost in the chaos of the finale.
I was not a fan of this film at all, but I still recommend you see it because most people love it. Big ideas, mediocre horror. It was almost as if Peele wanted to make a home invasion horror but after a last minute budget injection, decided to throw in a whole lot of rabbits. Too many rabbits.