Movie Review: US – Jordan Peele’s follow up to Get Out is doing big business, but I found little to like.

The review title says it all, doesn’t it?  Consider that a tl:dr, if you don’t want to read a dissenting opinion, but if you’re curious as to why I seem to be in the overwhelming minority when it comes to this movie, plough your way through.

I’ll say at the top that I wasn’t a great fan of Get Out either.  I thought the hype and critical praise for a mostly just good movie was startling.  My own daughter, whose opinion generally aligns with mine on horror movies, was one of those people who thought Get Out was fantastic, and I approached it with some excitement, as someone who generally feels let down by most movies in the genre.  It happened with Get Out, and to an even greater degree with Peele’s sophomore work, Us.

It’s an unfortunate sign of the times that even movies made by black moviemakers have become political ammunition for both sides of the idiotic Right and Left factions of society.  I bristle when I think of Black Panther described as an “important” movie, because I see it as just a movie.  Not a movie by a black director, starring a mostly black cast.  That kind of stuff does not interest me whatsoever in terms of critical analysis.  A movie stands or falls on the merits of its screenwriting, its direction, its acting and so forth.  Other than hating the farce pretending to be politics, it doesn’t matter to me what colour, race, or gender you happen to be.  Respect or hate is earned by the actions of the individual, and nothing else – and for me, that extends to achievements too.  If you make a good movie, I’ll enjoy your efforts.  If you make a bad or mediocre movie, you don’t get brownie points from me because of who or what you are.

Both Get Out, and now Us, proves that Jordan Peele made a hugely successful leap from TV to movies.  I think technically he’s a fine director, and I’m happy he chose to at least start in the horror genre, but as a writer, I have to give him a C .  Not coincidentally, it’s also how I feel about M. Night Shyamalan.  But like I said, here I’m in the minority.  While I get the commercial appeal of Black Panther, it’s yet another boilerplate story in the Marvel money-making franchise – movies that are on average solid 3.5s, but rarely fail at the box office.  I just don’t comprehend the success and critical appeal of either Get Out or Us, and yeah, I know it’s clickbait bullshit, but both of Peele’s movies have been described in ridiculously glowing praise.  Us was even described in one headline as the “greatest horror movie ever.”  Which is isn’t, by a wide margin.

Us is a Doppelganger story, something that hasn’t yet become a trope but could soon.  Roger Moore made one back in the 70s (The Man Who Haunted Himself), and Jake Gyllenhaal made one a couple of years ago named Enemy.    I actually quite like the concept, and I think there’s great potential in it when done well.  Us does not do it well at all.

The movie opens with a prologue set in 1986.  Visiting the Santa Cruz boardwalk, a bickering couple and their daughter Adelaide become separated.  Adelaide wanders off by herself to a house of mirrors on the beach where she encounters her own Doppleganger, who places her hands around Adelaid’s throat.  Upon being reunited with her parents, she’s initially unable to speak due to damage to her larynx.  Fast forward to the here and now, Adelaide is grown and married with two children.  It’s here in these early scenes that Peele’s talent as a writer and direct is obvious: the dialogue is crisp and contemporary, the actions of the characters are natural, and the performances are all very good.  I really enjoyed this part of the movie quite a bit.  All four actors (Winston Duke plays Dad – Gabe – and the children are played by Evan Alex, and Shahadi Wright Joseph) have terrific family chemistry and are believable and likable in their own ways.  In contrast, their friends the Tylers, played by Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker, are unlikable, shallow douches, and I found it hard to believe the Wilsons would have any interest in these people whatsoever.  Act 1 was the best the movie got for me, and soon after it was downhill.

The worst thing I can say about the first half an hour of the movie though is that the pacing is very poor, mostly expository scenes with nothing happening visually to distract the viewer from that fact, and neither does the plot make any great leaps.  The Wilsons have come to Santa Cruz for a vacation, but grown-up Adelaide is uncomfortable because of what happened to her as a child.  I wondered right away, didn’t she have any choice in the matter of vacation?  Why wait until they’ve already committed time and money to this trip until she tells her husband why she didn’t want to be here?  That seemed especially contrived, much like a key reveal about her towards the end of the movie (that, to be fair, you’ll guess a LOT sooner).  The story doesn’t actually start until the scene made famous by the trailer, where the Dopplegangers are standing outside their house in the middle of the night.  Pretty soon after this, the movie lost me, not because of the plot (there isn’t much), but because I’d seen this kind of movie before, and wasn’t a  fan.

If you’ve seen home invasion movies like The Strangers before, Us does nothing new throughout most of Act 2.  Creepy people show up to terrorize a normal, average family until the tables get turned.  That’s basically it.  Is it creepy?  In places, sure – but never AS creepy as the first few minutes of the invasion.  I started to lose interest when Adelaide’s Doppleganger, Red, tells her story.  It’s boring, and goes on for far too long, like that one guy at a social function that everybody just can’t wait to get away from.  When the Wilsons start to fight back, you saw it coming, and this is nothing new either.  I expected it and accepted it as a trope of this kind of story, but what I didn’t anticipate is that much the same thing is happening at the Tylers’ place, and when the Wilsons escape from their Doppelgangers, that’s where they run to … and the same thing happens.  Act 2 has almost zero plot progression, and it annoyed the hell out of me.  A pet peeve of mine are plots where locations in a story are revisited later – it feels too much like going backward, and it makes for plot contrivances – but to simply have two sequences that are almost Doppelgangers of each other in terms of content (and no, I don’t think that was an intentionally clever story choice) back to back is shitty writing, especially when nothing of great note actually happens.

By the time Act 3 came around, I had lost interest.  My uppermost thoughts were “this is what some people think is good horror?”  It boggled my mind.  And then, when there was very little story to go on, Peele dropped his reveal, and that utterly killed the rating I was going to give it.  In Get Out, I was mostly on board with the movie up until the reveal that the mind-switching was actually physical brain transplants by what was essentially a mad scientist.  It overexplained the mystery to the point where it was no longer interesting.  The equivalent is turning on all the lights in a kid’s bedroom to show the actual mundane truth behind the squeaks keeping him awake.  Or Fred pulling off Old Man Johnson’s monster mask in Scooby Doo.  Peele does the exact same thing in Us, on steroids.  I won’t spoil it, but he goes out of his way to explain what’s happening as if he just can’t completely buy into the main conceit of the horror genre.  He introduces a starkly scientific explanation for what’s happening but doesn’t provide any kind of reasoning for it whatsoever.  I don’t need to be spoon-fed plot details, believe me, and I’m pretty okay with unhappy endings, unresolved endings, endings where the horror just never stops … but the ending to Us turns the movie from one genre into half-baked sci-fi with a premise that doesn’t even make sense and throws up some alarmingly basic plot questions.  By the end, my opinion was that Peele had written himself into a corner and had nowhere else to go and that key character reveal was a complete audience fake out, hinging on Peele deceiving the audience into believing one thing about the character based upon her external actions and dialogue.  Because the reveal was true, the character would have never set foot within a hundred miles of Santa Cruz, for glaringly obvious reasons.


© 2019, Andrew Hope

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