US | 2019 | Directed by Jordan Peele
Logline: A middle-class family, vacationing at their lakeside retreat, are inexplicably terrorised by a family of doppelgängers.
Probably the most anticipated horror feature since Fede Alvarez’ re-booted Evil Dead, Jordan Peele’s hotly anticipated follow-up to Get Out is a movie far more entrenched in nightmare logic than his blackly comic thriller debut (sorry, pun unintended). This is a movie that is almost critic-proof, a movie that has managed the enviable feat of becoming the biggest box office opener for a horror movie in cinema history. Indeed, in terms of critical and commercial stats Peele has hit one clean out of the park and into the parking lot.
The Wilson family, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), husband Gave (Winston Duke), adolescent daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and her kid brother Jason (Evan Alex), are taking a much-earned break in Santa Cruz. They have friends, the Tyler family, next door, and Gave has splashed out on a speedboat for the family to enjoy on the lake. There’s the beach too, although Adelaide is reticent to visit the seaside, as it reminds her of a terrifying incident from her youth, a sequence which provides the move with it’s very unsettling prologue.
It’s 1986 and Adelaide is with her folks on the boardwalk, at the fair attractions, and while her mother goes to the toilet and her father is distracted the young girl wanders off down onto the sand, and then into the Hall of Mirrors where she backs into a girl who looks and dresses the same as her. Identical.
This opening sequence provides the movie with much of adult Adelaide’s paranoia and anxiety. She fears something is coming to a head, as the clues are all around her. She fears for her own safety, that her family are in danger. Then they see a family standing in their driveway, staring silently. The family look similar; an imposing father, a slim mother, a girl, and a younger boy. What do they want? Gabe is confident he can deal with the situation.
But it all goes horribly awry.
There’s no denying Peele is a very talented filmmaker. Us is a very well made movie, and it sports a sensational central performance - a dual one, to be precise - from Lupita Nyong’o. The rest of the cast are very good too, most notably the young Joseph girl, and also Madison Curry, who plays Adelaide in the prologue. Peele has the Scorsese Midas touch in casting.
Peele has said how he has always been a fan of horror movies, and wanted to make his own, but found comedy a much easier route for the earlier part of his career. Certainly comedic elements have made their way into both his features, more so in Get Out, and less so in Us, although there are a couple of scenes in Us where the comedic tone felt a little too obvious, as if suddenly we’d slipped into a sketch from his television show Key & Peele.
I wondered also if Us would’ve worked better as a segment in his upcoming re-boot of classic horror/fantasy/science fiction, The Twilight Zone. As original as the concept is for Us, certainly the sub-text and the last act of the movie, but much of it felt very conventional, essentially a home invasion-cum-slasher flick. And not a a very scary one either.
The Wilson doppelgängers aren’t very menacing, neither are the Tyler ones. They’re more amusing, in a grotesque kind of way. Why are they super-strong? Why did Pluto have a mask and scarred face and act like a dog? How on earth did they have such an elaborate underground existence, so close to the surface, and yet were undiscovered for so long?
I hate the term “elevated horror”, and yet Us engages this pretentious, oh-so-clever socio-political metaphor for the current United States climate. The mechanics of an effective horror movie have been left on the wayside. We are left with a series of set-pieces that don’t really gel together into a cohesive, albeit nightmarish horror movie. I’m all for nightmare logic, but when it’s depicted with such an obvious sense of realism, then it needs to follow through. Much of the second half felt contrived, the whole scene with the fire and Jason’s abduction was plain silly.
The ending was an anti-climax. Yes, I’ll admit, a little spooky, but by that stage, I had lost interest in the mother’s plight. What had started out as a very promising creep-fest, steadily underwhelmed me as a horror movie. The trailer promised something a lot more like a weird Fulci-esque oneirodynia, but, despite its strangeness, and being drenched in symbolism, its commentary was self-conscious and obscure. Get Out delivers a much more effective and sustained nightmare.