There’s a threshold that audiences can take when it comes to movies with a mysterious central premise. Too much left unexplained and the excitement can lead to confusion and boredom. Too much exposition and the film crumbles under the weight of didacticism. While writer-producer-director Jordan Peele’s Us, the follow-up to his Oscar-winning Get Out, seems to handle the threshold as well as he did in his previous film, it doesn’t have the same richness and obvious metaphors of that one. Not to imply Us is bad, but that it is unfortunately, and likely unfairly, being held to a standard it fails to reach.
Us follows the Wilson family. Mom Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) suffered a trauma when she was kid at the same beachfront amusement park where her family-husband Gabe (her Black Panther co-star Winston Duke), daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and son Jason (Evan Alex)-is about to spend a little vacation time. They survive a day at the beach, but back at home find themselves under attack by a family that are their exact doppelgangers. The film tackles everything from duality to privilege, but don’t look too close, or some of the threads the film establishes begin to unravel. No matter, as he nails the horror-movie tropes of jump scares, manic fighting, bloody assaults, and fucked-up twists.
In the beginning flashback, set in 1986, everything is a portent of things to come, from bible verses, to random rabbits, to, yes, even Hands Across America. Peele is such an expert director and Us reflects both his deft juxtaposition of horror and humor, as well as his penchant for pulling great performances in surprising moments. Nyong’o’s performance(s?) as both Adelaide and her counterpart Red come from such different places, and it was her voice as Red that gave me my first moment feeling completely freaked out. Elisabeth Moss, as Adelaide’s annoying friend, also gets some great moments in a relatively small part.
There are many interpretations as to what it all means, and maybe that’s point. When we get a deeper explanation for the violence late in the movie it’s categorized as a legend, so it may or not be based in truth. Despite some plot holes, as unwelcome turn, and an underwhelming denouement, the film is still an energizing, creepy, crazy tale, that still manages to find organic humor amidst the chaos, and awkward humanism inside the harrowing violence.
My Grade – B-