Despite the film’s misses, the director aims high enough to still land among the stars
“Is this some kind of fucked up performance art?”
Some films leave viewers talking about how masterful it had been made. Some leave them thinking about what it is it has to say. Jordan Peele’s Us leans a lot more into the latter. It seems the director did not intend otherwise, anyway.
Peele’s ability—and sheer commitment—to communicate a vivid vision to the audience creates an inescapable bond. Such is the case even when the humor gets clunky and fairly repetitive at times (with some of the suspense buildups even dragging on a couple of seconds too long). In the captivating way Peele takes on storytelling, it becomes difficult not to hold on and follow the process of the film. The lack of subtlety, even down to the not-so shocking final plot twist, is not to a fault as the director blatantly grabs the audience by the shoulders and looks them right in the eye with his horrors.
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Us starts off by describing the state of abandoned tunnels with “no known purpose” in the United States. It then follows the story of the young Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) with her parents at a family outing back in 1986, detailing a strange encounter at an amusement park by the beach in Santa Cruz. Decades go by and Adelaide comes back to same area, now with her own family, quickly realizing that her mysterious past doesn’t really intend on staying there.
The story is anchored on Adelaide, which is the film’s strongest decision. Lupita Nyong’o commands as both her characters (though she particularly awes as Red, the lead’s doppelganger). Her performance lures you into her eeriness all the while making you feel safer viewing all this from the spaces between your fingers.
Though quite predictable, Us still effectively unnerves through the dissonance it brings. Even though you know that some of its surprises will unfold, it still takes a while to be digested once it does. This is where the lack of subtlety, Jordan Peele’s style it seems, comes in as a strength. It leaves you asking a lot of questions at the end, both positively and negatively; as it wraps up with some lapses in fleshing out the plot, leaving you to wonder about them. Although, the points that the director aims to make reveal themselves nonetheless, so it still ends up successful at generating the meditative questions one would expect from the movie. Its multiple layers merit being reviewed over and over, unwrapped and taken a peek at through every angle. The film ends up as a personal journey, as the title suggests, and, to an extent, forces the viewer to further introspect one’s own deep, abandoned tunnel, with every turn of the film.
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The audaciousness that Peele displays with his bold commitment not only to what he aims to say but how he wants to say it can easily be conflated with an air of self-importance. The director avoids this with Us, as he deeply roots the film in reality. No matter how surreal his lofty executions get, he catches viewers off guard at the right moments through sudden quips of close reality. This is where the veteran comic’s skill with comedic timing comes in particularly handy, as he cleverly evades undercutting the suspense of the film with carefully timed bits and one-liners. It’s funny but always lands on its feet when it doesn’t want to be anymore.
As razor-sharp and neatly done Get Out was, Us suffers from a more clouded train of thought. A lot of the film is spent thinking about what might be happening or what might happen next. The payoff is not quite as earth-shattering. However, it needed not be as the filmmaker opts for a more conventional route in his horror filmmaking, inciting instead more visceral reactions. Though in place of endless jump scares and gore fests, the instinctive bait that the multihyphenate throws at the audience is that at any given moment, you just might scream or laugh. Some occurrences in the film even divide audiences between the two involuntary reactions. It then makes you question afterwards: “Why did I laugh? Why didn’t I laugh?”
This is a testament to Peele’s answer as to why he decided on the topic of his film: “No one really wants to look at their faults, their guilt, their demons. We all want to look elsewhere.” Us proves that this seasoned filmmaker really doesn’t want us to look elsewhere.
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Not too many people probably expected the Key and Peele comedian to suddenly come up with an Oscar-winning horror when Get Out premiered in 2017—even less so, for him to follow this up with another riveting horror all the while evading the sophomore slump. But Jordan Peele’s Us certainly proves that he still has a lot to say and he’s not afraid to say them through his films.
Even if we might be little afraid to see them.
Words Danielle Francisco
Art Alexandra Lara