Movie Review: Us (2019)

Us (dir. Jordan Peele, 2019) – A family’s beach vacation turns into a living nightmare as they come to face their violent doppelgängers.

Verdict

Following Get Out, Jordan Peele presents another fiercely intelligent and thoughtful sophomore work, though its ambitious narrative fails to bear the weight of scrutiny.

4/5

Review (Warning: Spoilers)

Once upon a time, there lived a happy family, each with suffering shadows whom they knew nothing about. Then came the day when their doppelgängers broke their silence and rose above ground, demanding to take their places.

As a home invasion thriller, Jordan Peele’s sophomore horror effort Us succeeds as an original masterwork of sustained tension. The horrifying premise puts an original spin on the home invasion trope, revealing The Strangers to be more than familiar faces.

A brilliant cast make the uncanny duplicates grotesque through subtle actions and crooked smiles.  Michael Abels’ score with its chilling vocalisations work well to go along. But amongst its many technical accomplishments, what genuinely stirs interest is the meaning that Us urges its audience to infer.

Photo: Claudette Barius / Monkeypaw Productions
Talk about a thriller night.

The horror-fantasy introduces a world of unequals, interpreting the have and the have-nots in literal terms. Where Adelaide led a life of comfort, her doppelgänger Red endured years of hunger and pain. It is a heavy-handed albeit effective metaphor. Suggesting that one’s comfort comes at a cost to another, Peele’s portrait of duality presents economic inequality in striking imagery.

Smiling faces at the beach amusement park contrast with their vacant doubles, housed in abandoned prison-like tunnels. Below ground where the Tethered were bred, there is nothing beyond the bare essentials. They grasp onto thin air, their hands empty and gestures meaningless. They may look like us and think like us, but do not live like us.

Deeper implications come with the final twist, as to the true identities of Red and Adelaide, delving into thought-provoking questions of personal identity and human nature. How do we truly begin to understand who we are? What does it mean to be us?

Similar sci-fi plots have taken on this very motif. The Invasion of the Body Snatchers for instance posits empathy as the answer. While the duplicates retain their original’s memories, it is their absence of emotions that is disturbing to watch. The doppelgängers are forced to take a look at their other selves, discovering just how uncannily alike yet dissimilar they were.

Photo: Claudette Barius / Monkeypaw Productions
“All I want to say is that they don’t really care about us.”

Us posits that it is the upbringing that make us, us. The Wilsons are forced to confront what they could have been, had circumstances just turn out different. Will they then live with the cards they were dealt, or know to escape the poverty line?

The story goes further to critique what we do with the awareness of privilege; even when Adelaide’s Tethered manages to change her fate, she forgets about the world below, where she came from, until its violence climbs above.

In this, Us presents a stunningly layered social commentary. If only it had entrusted its audience to their own imagination. Upon explanation, many of the Wilsons’ actions and the mechanics of how the Tethered works fail to withstand scrutiny. Such logic gaps mount with each revelation and unnecessarily extensive scenes of exposition.

The film necessitates that we accept the magic that governs its world, and despite its irksome absurdity, we do. We would be damned if we let these narrative flaws discount the important message that comes through this engagingly introspective and highly ambitious story.

19 thoughts on “Movie Review: Us (2019)”

  1. I agree the exposition should have been left out, the script had already so many problems but when they tried to explain it it created so many new ones. The acting was so good but I wish Peele spent more time on polishing that story

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely, the acting and message were phenomenal. If only the story was a little more polished, Us would’ve been perfect. I’d have liked it better if they trusted the audience with more ambiguity.

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  2. Great review! Was wondering if you’d watched it yet. I’ve only seen ‘US’ once and I haven’t stopped thinking about it. That ‘5 On It’ balletic rendition at the end still haunts me. The way Peele uses music to expose how tethered we are to popular culture, frankly, is ingeniously terrifying.

    I completely understand the scrutiny of the revelations in the final act. I would never have thought to think of it had I not read others thoughts on the movie. Admittedly, it didn’t bother me as much because the film is SO deeply cutting for the modern U.S. political psyche. (The false promise of Hands Across America, the perceived “protest” of the Tethered uprising, the thin divide between us and the other). I believe this film should be required viewing in high schools. If someone were to ask me how America got to this crazy-divisive moment in time, I’d just show them this movie.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for dropping by, Adrian! I’m glad you mentioned the music. It’s one of the best things about Us, how it redefined popular songs by juxtaposing them with scenes of pure terror. You’re spot on about the political commentary too. The movie deserves some deep diving, whether academically or otherwise.

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  3. I would have to say that Us is the best film of 2018 I’ve seen thus far. What makes it stand out from other contemporary social commentaries is that it’s very clearly a story first – just one that happens to have a message. The problem with a lot of other films that try to have a message is that the filmmakers preach the message first and worry about writing an actual story second. While the results have been praised regardless, it just ensures their work has no staying power, which counts for a lot. Plus, I can tell the filmmakers are concerned their audience won’t get their message unless it’s drilled into their heads. Jordan Peele, on the other hand, actually takes his audience seriously, which means he is miles ahead of most people working in Hollywood (or A24 for that matter).

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    1. Us is not my favourite film this year, but it’s definitely one of the top few for me too. I too agree that Jordan Peele never sees his audience as beneath him. It’s not just how he tackles difficult social issues head-on, but also how he embraces the horror genre in the process. It’s wonderful to see horror get the credit it deserves, rather than dismissed as frivolous entertainment.

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  4. Really glad you liked it. To be honest I didn’t have an issue with logic gaps mainly because so much is left untold. I thought that ambiguity worked really well. And it was really fun seeing it a second time and picking up on all kinds of things. For me the story in “Us” was so much easier to get in line with than in “Get Out”. Now that’s a movie with some big story issues that I never could shake.

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    1. There’s just so much detail and symbolism Peele puts into his films; I’d love to revisit Us sometime, just to see what I missed. Personally, I thought Get Out was a stronger film, in that its narrative was more coherent and believable. I’m curious as to what you make of it, and would very much love to read your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My review of “Get Out” was pretty different than the majority of opinions. For me it was a movie filled with big ideas but sloppy execution. I thought it’s last act was rough. Several odd storytelling choices and some pretty big holes in the plot which I never could quite shake. Also (and this is definitely an unpopular opinion) I felt Kaluuya was incredibly one dimensional. It’s funny, it’s one of a handful of films where I’ve felt vastly in the minority. 😂

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        1. Just done reading your review (and left a note!). Personally, I felt the plot of Us called for bigger questions and necessitated more suspension of disbelief. But it is always great to read vastly different opinions. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Yep, “Us” definitely leaves us with more questions. I think for me the difference is “Us” leaves questions by design. It’s meant to leave of curious and wondering. Plus, if Peele goes back with a sequel (as he has hinted), there is plenty he could explore. The thought of that gets me a little giddy! 😁

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    1. Me too, I can’t wait to see his next venture. He’s one of few directors who actually makes an effort at originality. Thanks for reading! 🙂

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