Us and Them

Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

A truly intriguing film that has a lot to live up to.

Living up to its name, so much of Us hinges on duality. There are too many Easter eggs hidden and statements made to be absorbed in one viewing. This is more curse than blessing. There are so many important things being said but not one complete thought.

The second film made by acclaimed director Jordan Peele, Us is on the shortlist of smartest horror films. Peele gives a nod to The Goonies, The Right Stuff, and C.H.U.D.” onscreen. The director owes just as much debt to George A. Romero in philosophy and execution which serves as the blueprint of modern horror. Credit to Peele for elevating those tenets.

That said, Us is also underwhelming. It’s the feeling that you saw something important but clueless as to what. So many thoughts and ideas spring out but are also left unrealized. “Get Out” made so many statements that rotated on one central theme. With Us, I could write about class, both the underclass and the artifice of the class system, PTSD, race, our inner selves, and like eight other things you’d have to rewatch.

It’s all important, smart, and ambitious but here just isn’t enough time to convey them all properly or fully. I like this idea of the “tethered,” clones of we who live in the service tunnels and railways across America. But how do they move in time as their above-ground counterparts? What happens for overseas travel? How did they get their clothes? There are so many questions that I can just watch a movie on that. Peele is already above glossing over details or logic like that. The final cut is left with a highway-sized plot hole.

Visually, Peele is on top of his game. The atmosphere is the true horror. The tranquility and silence make the tension. The doom and violence are the release. It’s a wonderful torture chamber he’s created. So beautiful that you’re almost willing to let all the weirdness wash over you. Almost. It’s distracting on first watch, but the Easter eggs are everywhere which will make the twentieth viewing as interesting as the second.

Lupita Nyong’o gives an award-winning effort. I’ll remember liking her performance more than anything else in the film. She runs the gauntlet of emotions for two characters and all of them are believable. Vincent Duke needs more comedy roles. The first 30 minutes of the film could’ve been a reboot on the “Vacation” franchise, and I would’ve been fine watching that.

Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker flat out steal the show. They capture the energy of Get Out by expertly fulfilling genre archetypes with a wink and a smile. Watching Moss crawl across the living room in a closeup will be an iconic horror film shot years from now.

Us is undoubtedly a solid film and light years ahead of what serves as “good” in its current peer list. It is a victim of its own hype while also falling short of its lofty ideals. Not quite the home run everyone was expecting but a notice to all that Jordan Peele is here to stay.

 

JP Spence
JP Spence

JP Spence is a writer, screenwriter, and improviser living in Los Angeles. He previously served as the media critic for the Topanga Messenger and as Editor-In-Chief for the LA Valley Star. You can find Josh @JP_Spence on twitter or at any press screening.

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