Writer/director Jordan Peele follows his captivating directorial debut Get Out with Us, another horror film that has garnered critical acclaim. I wasn’t blown away by the film, but I understand why many others praised it.
The Wilson family’s Santa Cruz vacation goes awry when scissor-wielding evil doppelgängers called “tethers” show up outside their place. The family attempts to evade these shadow people, while the film occasionally flashes back to the childhood of protagonist and matron Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o).
Consider two key viewpoints from which to approach this film. The first is that of the individual, who, like me, is looking for a solid horror film. This filmgoer wants creepiness, gore, innovation (within the realm of horror), perhaps strong characters, and maybe a few jump scares. Us offers a smattering of all of these, but nothing that stands out in the horror canon. Thus, this viewer finds the film average.
Then there is the individual who favors directors with a distinctive style… Quentin Tarantino, the Coen brothers, and the like. This viewer puts up with the horror element in exchange for strong thematic elements, symbolism, and filming technique. To this person, Us is a masterpiece.
The horror aficionado sees in Us a home invasion film that starts strong, but quickly devolves into silliness and an implausible reveal. This person dislikes antagonist Red’s (also Lupita Nyong’o) croaking voice and the elongated talk scenes. Moreover, a major twist leaves this viewer thinking, so what?
Conversely, the analyzer, more tolerant of, for instance, rabbits roaming around a hallway or juxtapositions between fighting and a children’s ballet, finds a labyrinth of a film rich in possibilities for interpretation.
One element of the film that triumphs is its soundtrack, highlighted by Michael Abels’ score. The opening scene introduces “Anthem”, a sinister child chorus in staccato, while the camera focuses on a rabbit, then gradually zooms out. In the film’s most violent scene, the music switches from The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” to N.W.A.’s “F**k the Police”. Also enjoyable are the close-ups of characters acting odd, which is becoming a Peele signature. For example, one shadow character’s silent expression of terror slowly morphs into laughter.
Regardless of its genre, a great film offers something below the surface, which Us certainly does. However, put aside the critical acclaim that Us has achieved and the multitude of YouTube personalities explaining how this means that. Remember that a great film also has something on the surface… something to spellbind the viewer. Us does not have that something. Thus, Us is impressive, and there’s something missing in Us.—Douglas Ogurek ***/*****