In 2017, Jordan Peele’s debut horror film Get Out had horror fans debating for months: some considered it overhyped garbage, some others thought it was the best horror film of 2017. In spite of its polarised reception, Get Out won Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards, was nominated for a bunch of other awards, wound up being the best reviewed horror feature of all time!
When I reviewed the movie in 2017, I explained why it deserves the recognition: it’s a very well-made film, it’s got plenty of elements to love, which is why it ended up on my best horror movies of 2017 list. However, I never reached the level of love many others have for Get Out. Also, speaking with my good pal Jimmy (a horror connoisseur who runs a great website), I came to realise how far-fetched the twist was: take the metaphors away, and you get a giant plot hole right in front of you!
Still, as a cautious fan of Get Out, I went into Us with very high expectations (like everybody else, I suppose). Considering how well Us is doing financially, we all know the story: after an incredibly crafted opening scene, which is both unsettling and perfectly filmed, Us introduces the audience to an American family going to a serene beach vacation. Lupita Nyong’o plays the mom, Winston Duke is the dad, and then there are a son and a daughter, played by two child actors I haven’t heard of before (Shahadi Wright Joseph and Alex Evan). Their dream holiday, however, turns a dark turn when their doppelgängers appear and begin to terrorise them.
Out of all the routes this plot can take, Us takes the viewer on an unexpected, highly original journey. In fact, the story here is great. Without a doubt, this is one of the most unconventional and original stories brought to the silver screen in the past so many years. Jordan Peele’s imagination is probably limitless, as the script here would also make for a fantastic horror novel.
Continue reading and check my final grade below…
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A great story, though, is only as effective as the way it’s told: in Us, the main storyline takes the majority of screen time, but it also intertwines with very much needed flashbacks to Adelaide Wilson (Nyong’o)’s backstory. She’s the lead in this film and, let’s stop beating around the bush, she gives one of the best performances I have ever seen in any horror film. After ignoring James McAvoy (Split) and Toni Collette (Hereditary), the people at the Academy should get their head out of their ass and give Lupita that damn Best Actress Award! She is phenomenal in the movie, providing a double performance which strength lies in subtleties.
Speaking of the acting, the child actors here are fantastic. It’s so refreshing to see kids in a movie acting like kids in real life: both their dialogues and the way they behave are extremely genuine and believable in any situation. Winston Duke is also very good but, for some reason, is treated as the comedic relief: a questionable choice I will come back to in the next few paragraphs.
On top of an amazingly refreshing story and fantastic performances, Us is a technical marvel for the most part. The editing is spotless and adds a lot to the storytelling, it’s truly purposeful, with a couple of cuts that help the viewer understand what the story is building up to. The wide angles utilised in the most intense sequences provide the audience with the sensation that what we’re watching is actually happening: close-ups and frenetic camera movements are used sparingly, only when needed and only when it’s integral to the scene. Every single shot serves a purpose in the bigger picture.
Best of all, though, Us sounds like true horror: unlike the formulaic soundtrack of Get Out, the music – especially the theme song – in Jordan Peele’s sophomore effort is truly memorable and ground-breaking. It makes the film even more unsettling than it already is. Yet, the sound design and sound mixing are perfect.
I watched Us in theatre during a movie marathon where I also catch The Prodigy (recommended) and Escape Room (not recommended): the difference between the sound mixing of those two flicks (extremely loud to jump-scare the audience in scenes that wouldn’t be scary otherwise) and of Us was truly revealing. Us really sounds like horror and understands that sound can be the most important element to make one’s movie terrifying.
And, yes, contrarily to Get Out, Us is filled with bone-chilling moments that complete an already atmospheric and unsettling tone and vibe.
Finally, Us understands that every great modern horror film needs to have a relatable hidden meaning or message to be truly frightening. Just like other fantastic films, Us can be interpreted in a number of different ways: without giving anything away, my own interpretation of the film revolves around social welfare and the clash of the classes. I’ll leave it at that.
What’s great about the message in Us is the subtlety with which it’s conveyed. Whereas Get Out was very on the nose with its social commentary, this film lets the viewer figure out everything by paying attention and being committed to the story. Also, Us features a couple of reveals at the end: whether you’ll find them predictable or not (I saw one of them coming from miles away), it won’t ruin your viewing experience. In fact, foreseeing what’s coming (or watching the movie again with that knowledge) only helps you appreciate more the build-up and all the subtle clues spread throughout.
Quite honestly, every person who understands what makes a good film will agree that Us is a fantastic horror/thriller, a great and unique horror picture that will be held in high regards for years. On top of this objective assessment of the movie, I personally really loved it: I found it to be truly frightening and effective, and I can’t wait to watch it again and discover more about what’s hidden between the lines.
That said, it’s not a perfect movie. I have a few minor issues with it, such as a fake jump-scare early on in the movie and a couple of slapstick comedy moments that truly felt misplaced in an otherwise straight horror film.
I also have two bigger problems with Us, the first one – which I briefly mentioned before – is the dad’s role in the story. Winston Duke’s does a good job in terms of performance, but he’s also given plenty of funny lines: during the setup, this is not a problem, as it makes for a contrast between light-hearted beginning and intense remaining of the film. However, when you see him involved in bone-chilling sequences and he breaks the flow by cracking up jokes, it can be very distracting and frustrating.
Yet, one of the big reveals of Us – perhaps the biggest in the whole movie – comes with a series of questions. I really don’t want to delve into is right now, as it would mean spoiling the whole experience for those of you who have yet to watch this fantastic movie, but I want to say that, if you take away the metaphors, this reveal makes no sense logistically. Or, at least, it raises questions that would make the American government and security system look very, very dumb.
Overall, though, I absolutely loved Us. It gave me everything I was expecting and much more. It’s one of the few horror films I’ve seen that made my skin crawl, it has a strong emotional impact and it makes your brain work, going way beyond the silly idea of mindless entertainment. Most importantly, besides cinematography and visuals (where Get Out excels), Us improve upon Peele’s previous film in every aspect. I loved Us so much, I can’t wait to see it again and… to know your thoughts about it!
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