Review: Us

Review: Us

by Alan Grant
article from Friday 29, March, 2019

THERE WAS A LOT working in favour of Us as it made its way to UK cinemas. Not only is it the spiritual successor to the excellent Get Out, and stars Lupita Nyong’o of Black Panther and 12 Years A Slave, but it’s also written, produced, and, most importantly, directed by Jordan Peele. 

Peele has already established his filmmaking calibre, not only with Get Out but also with his work on BlacKKKlansman, and he can comfortably claim the title of ‘Most Deserving of Hype in Hollywood’ with confidence. Add to all this that it had the best opening weekend of any live-action movie since Avatar in the US and is the third highest gross horror movie ever, then all the indicators were there that Us would be well worth seeing...

Sometimes films with a lot of hype behind them don’t work out but Us is not one of those films. If you only pop into these reviews to see if you should go see the movie in the title then be assured that the answer is a pretty solid yes! It’s a great horror film and far above average in terms of movies in general.

As is the usual trend with horror films, it’s difficult to give a synopsis without giving away some of the juicier details which I wouldn’t dream of doing for a film that I recommend as firmly as Us. Essentially, Us follows a family who are stalked by sinister doppelgängers during their holiday and later become embroiled in a conflict between the living and their opposite numbers from the other side. Trust me on this, any more than that will spoil the movie.

There is a lot that works really, really well in Us. To start with, the premise is really interesting and, while it’s not precisely original, it puts together tropes from slasher films, thrillers, zombie movies, and blends it all together with a paradoxically polished B-movie feel and aesthetic. 

Nyong’O is also a fantastic lead who doing double-duty as both the heroic mum of the family and also her ‘tethered’ (the rest of the cast match her example but her’s is the most entertaining). Nyong’O’s impressive range as an actor is on full-display as pulls off a female lead in a horror movie who isn’t totally unlikable and illogical but also lolls around in the uncanny valley as her creepy, clockwork alternate version. 

In fact, the whole family, on both sides of the divide, work really well together and all the leads (Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, and Evan Alex) put in excellent performances. Also, Us contains some of the best sound and music work I’ve ever seen in a horror flick - it only takes a few notes to ratchet the tension up in the theatre – a sure sign that it totally works. (Thank Wagner for popularising leitmotifs, Ed.)

There are also bits of the plot – one in particular, later in the movie – that demonstrate how well written, produced, and directed the whole project is but my commitment to spoiler-free reviews prevents me from going into further details.

However, where Us works best is in fulfilling its ambition to be a really smart film and relying on horror audiences to step up to meet it. The movie toys with themes like othering, racism, classicism, the contemporary American malaise of modernity, and effortlessly ties in imagery from religion and mythology into its narrative and really hits the mark when it dose so. It’s difficult for a committed genre movie to avoid heavy themes and complex imagery without coming across as flippant or preachy but Us nails it each and every time. In fact, the scenes in which Nyong’o and her doppelgänger sit down to talk about what their relationship means are the film’s standout highlights. 

Us isn’t perfect however. There are some attempts at breaking the tension with jokes that come across as clunky and while they do change the mood, why this is desirable in a film that does so well in creating tension in the first place is unclear. Also, some of the characters have a habit of flipping between being totally terrified and a cocky ‘I got this’ kind of attitude with no apparent reason to do so during some of the fight scenes – and the imagery, while usually great, is a little muddled at some key points. 

However, these complaints are really minor and only someone like myself, who reviews movies on a weekly basis, will be even in the least bit ruffled by them. Pretty much everything works how it should and Us completely lives up to its reputation and its hype. If you’re at all keen on horror movies or even just like a little suspense in your life you should go check it out. 

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