First things first: this movie is horribly named. For the most part, if your movie is difficult to find by Googling just its name, it’s probably a bad name. This doesn’t apply to every movie, but I have always found it to be a decent rule of thumb: make your name unique enough and easy to find, and people will remember it more. Plus, it will stick a bit more. Upon watching the movie, I understand why it is titled the way it is. But I don’t like it.
Just another warning before I get into the review, there will be spoilers.
‘Us’ is the latest horror/comedy film by the now well-known Jordan Peele. Coming off his success with ‘Get Out’ (which was a huge success, especially culturally), I became interested in what Peele would do next. Would it be another horror film that mixes with comedy and satire? While there is humour in ‘Us’, it definitely is not a comedy film in the same way that ‘Get Out’ was. Whereas ‘Get Out’ rode a fine line between comedy and horror, the comedy elements on display here are to relieve the tension.
The beginning section of the film is fantastic. I was idiomatically on the edge of my seat. We see a young Adelaide Thomas wander away from a theme park in Santa Cruz and enter a hall of mirrors. She encounters a girl who looks just like her, which causes her personal issues (such as not speaking). Her family is concerned and they go to a clinician for help. In the present day, Adelaide and her family go to a beach house in Santa Cruz. Adelaide is disturbed about the thought of going to the beach as that is where she got lost in the hall of mirrors (although we later find out that Adelaide is actually Red, her Tethered, as the real Adelaide was locked in an underground facility during the initial encounter in the hall of mirrors; I suppose the real reason why Red is afraid to go to the beach is because she does not want to return to the underground tunnels).
Jason, Adelaide’s son, sees a mysterious man in a red jumpsuit at the beach. The man has blood dripping from his hands. Later that night, a mysterious family appears at the end of the Wilson’s driveway. Up until this point in the film, I was enamored. I was completely gripped and terrified and interested to see what would happen next.
Unfortunately, the movie goes downhill from here until the end. While it never became bad (although the plot twist was arguably pretty bad), the movie never managed to live up to its own promises. When the Tethered break into the Wilson’s home, the heart-stopping atmosphere comes to a rolling stop. The Tethered versions of Jason, Zora, and Gabe chase down their human counter-parts after Red tells a tale of a girl who lives a happy life while her shadow suffers (while this is happening, we think it is Red but it is actually the kidnapped and grown up Adelaide from the beginning of the movie, which explains why she can talk).
From this point on, the film’s tension completely disappears and we get some slasher film action, as the film bursts into episodes of extreme violence. This culminates in the fake Adelaide going into the hall of mirrors, which leads into an underground facility. The U.S. government attempted to control the public by creating Tethered, but ultimately failed and abandoned the facility. Adelaide and Red fight, which results in the real Adelaide being killed by her replacement. In one of the closing shots, we see Jason in the car beside Adelaide looking at her as if he knows her secret: that she is, in fact, Red.
Now, this isn’t the worst twist ending ever. Far from it. And while I don’t think that the logistics of the twist are as important as the symbolic meanings, it is difficult to ignore. Peele takes the approach of information dumping in the last act in order to properly explain the twist. It is Peele that focuses on the logic of the twist, in such a way that the symbolic meaning becomes watered down. It makes me think of the work of David Lynch. Oftentimes, Lynch will propose a set of metaphysical question through story and characters, only for them to never be truly be answered. Lynch typically withholds the logistics of his plot developments from his audience, knowing full way that the logic behind metaphysical questions only serve to water them down.
I don’t think that ‘Us’ is the only film that suffers from this. I think that a large reason behind ‘Us’ having a twist ending in the way it does is a result of an epidemic in narrative design in modern entertainment. There is an expected necessity from the audience to be deceived. The audience wants twists to happen because they can then go onto online forums and discuss their theories. However, this isn’t a surefire way of adding depth. In the case of ‘Us’, I truly believe that a non-twist ending could have been written that would have better served the metaphysical ideas present in the film.
Despite the drop in quality as the film progressed and the lackluster twist ending, a lot of aspects in this film were absolutely on point. Peele uses sound and music to phenomenal effect (as he did in ‘Get Out’). The acting was top notch, the visual style was present and consistent (it is also consistent with ‘Get Out’), the editing was clean, and the entire beginning of the film was some of the best film-making I have seen in a long-time (probably since Phantom Thread, when I saw that back in the beginning of 2018).
‘Us’ is a great horror film from the beautiful mind of Jordan Peele. While it has its many flaws (which are too deep to truly ignore), it is also a magnificent display of film-making. From all the modern directors that are working today, I think that very few can match Peele’s visceral combination of audio and visuals. With ‘Get Out’ and now ‘Us’, Peele has proven himself to be a force to be reckoned with in the film-making world. And while I don’t necessarily agree with all of his choices, it is hard to deny his cultural impact and importance. Bravo, Mr. Peele.
7/10 – Good