Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Us (2019): A Review


Us is the follow-up to writer/director Jordan Peele's horror film-cum-social commentary Get Out. I was not particularly overwhelmed with Get Out, finding it a pastiche of other stories, along with a fixation on the logic of having candles in an operating room. I was less overwhelmed with Us, a film I can appreciate for its craftsmanship while still not finding it frightening.

In 1986, young Addie is left to wander a Santa Cruz carnival unsupervised. Wandering into a funhouse, she comes upon a sentient reflection of herself.

Cut to present-day, where Addie Wilson (Lupita Nyong'o) is married to Russel (Winston Duke) and with two children: Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex). Up in their summer cabin, Addie feels ill at ease, especially with Russel's suggestion to go up to nearby Santa Cruz for a day-trip to the beach.

Reluctantly, Addie goes, finding some comfort with their friends Josh and Kitty (Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss). However, once they are back in their cottage, Addie becomes alarmed to see four figures standing on their driveway. Russel is dismissive, until the family, indeed the whole world, is plunged into Night of the Living Doppelgangers.

Image result for us 2019To their collective horror, the Wilsons find that standing before them are figures who look exactly like them, but they are far from exact copies. Dressed in red jumpsuits and carrying scissors, they are here to enact world domination. Addie's doppelganger, speaking in a raspy, halting voice, introduces her family: Abraham, Umbrae and Pluto, twisted and demented forms of Abraham, Zora and Jason respectively.

They are here for what "Red" (Addie's evil twin) calls 'The Untethering'. This Night of the Ghouls is universal the Wilsons find out. Having managed to escape (Russel even managing to kill off Abraham), they find no refuge with Josh and Kitty, they having been killed by their own doppelgangers. The night continues with the Wilsons attempting to survive, but for that to happen, Addie must confront herself...and her other self, culminating in a 'twist' that for my mind is no twist at all.

Maybe the fault lies in me, but I have never been scared in a horror film. Never. I remember laughing at The Exorcist, so most if not all horror films have no actual effect on me, let alone making me jump. Granted, when Regan stabs herself with the cross, that was creepy, but I never had nightmares after seeing it. The 'added footage' and Regan scampering down the stairs in a twisted contortion to be honest had me howling with laughter, not terror.

Again, I can appreciate the craft in The Exorcist: the directing, acting, cinematography, and can see why so many lapsed Catholics started sleeping with rosaries after seeing the film, but maybe I'm just too detached as a viewer to feel the terrors. In that same vein, I acknowledge and recognize Peele's skill and understanding of the elements of a horror film: the creepy choir in The Omen manner, the juxtaposition of sunlight and terror, flickering lights and screeching banshees.

Image result for us 2019
Having said that, I didn't find Us frightening. As with The Exorcist, I found some of it actually funny. Nyong'o's "creepy" Red voice was technically a great piece of acting, and Nyong'o is a skilled actress to essentially play dual roles. She is wonderful in her performance: the haunted Addie, the demonic Red, making both feel authentic and natural. It's a very skilled performance and Nyong'o should be applauded for it.

Credit too should also be handed out to Duke, Joseph and Alex for playing dual roles of the Wilsons and their demented, twisted doubles. Peele has a strong visual style to him whether it is in danger in the bright light or the hidden underworld of the Tethered.

However, try as I might I found a lot of Us amusing versus terrifying. At one point I did ask if this was a comedy. When Kitty and Josh's doppelganger daughters start attacking Zora and Jason, I was laughing, the screeching adding more humor to my viewing. As I've said before, it may be due to my inability to find most horror films frightening while also acknowledging they are well-made to be frightening. However, Peele does invite us to laugh at times.

After Russel and Addie reference both Home Alone and Micro Machines, Zora and Jason ask them "What's Micro Machines?" and "What's Home Alone?" respectively, which I figure was meant to be funny. Russel's continuing inability to get the danger he was facing (as well as his constant hobbling), along with an argument about who would drive the getaway car should be funny, but at times I wasn't sure if there was a joke there.

The 'twist' is not a shocker, at least to me. While the film could have ended with Addie Triumphant, the 'twist' is not unexpected, so I was not surprised. I did wonder once the doppelgangers 'took over the world', what exactly would happen? It's not as if they had any ability to make this a better place, to use a little Michael Jackson reference.

Finally, if there is any allegory on Us, it mercifully flew over me.

That I did not find Us scary is not Us' fault. I rarely if ever find any horror film scary. The film is well-made with a strong Lupita Nyong'o performance (though I don't think she gives bad performances). The film worked well for those who did find it frightening, including my mother who thought based on the title that Us was a romance. She learned the hard way.

If there were to be a doppelganger of me running around, I wouldn't worry because he looks like this...

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...and he wouldn't hurt a fly (or at least I hope so).


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