“Us” Review

Photo credit: Universal

I know it’s only March, but let’s just cancel 2019. It’s done. Sure, it would be nice to see who kills Thanos, but I simply can’t imagine many more movies this year comparing to Jordan Peele’s Us.

This movie is an absolute blast. Seriously! This isn’t the way that most people would describe a horror movie ridden in subtext, but it’s absolutely true. Us is the perfect movie to watch in a crowded theater, as it’s full of shocking reveals and gruesome moments that make you either want to reach out at the screen or cower in your seat, afraid to make a sound. Peele continues to prove himself as a master of suspense, knowing how to effectively stage set pieces and move the camera in a way that complements his vivid imagery. It’s so refreshing to sit in a horror movie and feel the assurance that you’re under such confident direction. You never quite feel safe in Us, but that’s not because you’re anticipating a cheap jump scare around the corner; it’s because you’re aware that Peele is playing you like a fiddle, crescendoing to a payoff that you see coming but nonetheless fear. Us is a much more traditional horror movie than Get Out, and these payoffs can often be brutal (those scissors from the marketing…get put to good use.) However, the movie never feels gratuitous or mindless, as Peele always knows when to cut away or ground the violence with purpose.

Us is also…kinda hilarious? Peele cleverly draws from his comedy background, injecting laugh-out-loud moments in scenes that would otherwise be overly dour. This comic relief doesn’t feel out of place, but instead elevates the movie by allowing itself to have fun with its premise and grounding its protagonists. It really adds a human element to the narrative, but perhaps nothing does this more than the stellar cast. Each actor does a great job portraying both his or her “normal” self, as well as the doppelganger counterpart. However, nobody steals the show like Lupita Nyong’o. I genuinely can’t say enough about how incredible she is. This is a transformative performance that is as physical as it is emotional, and her doppelganger terrifyingly dominates every scene she is in. The whole thing is so multi-layered and is even more impressive once the story fully reveals itself, and I’m sure that I will continue to notice small details on future viewings.

Similar to Get Out, Peele once again creates his own twisted universe with a fascinating mythology that borders on sci-fi. Smartly, Peele never gives us an encyclopedia worth of information on this mythology.  Yes, we have an understanding of what is going on, but we always have more questions than answers. This is the part of Us that has frustrated lots of people. The film raises lots of questions that aren’t meant to be definitively answered, and there are multiple interpretations of the film that contradict one another, yet seem equally logical. I accept that this won’t work for everybody, but this bold storytelling is ultimately what makes Us dare I say…brilliant?

Peele directs in such a manner that makes it obvious he’s much more interested in the figurative meaning behind plot as opposed to the literal implications of it. He is only two movies into his career, but I think that Us shows Peele’s hallmark might be visual storytelling. When I refer to visual storytelling, I’m not referring to the way that Spielberg movies are functional without the sound on. In Peele’s case, visual storytelling is creating iconic images or symbols that function as visual metaphors (I can think of several shots from this movie that are destined to go down as all-timers). In how many a movies a year do you pay attention to little things like the the color of a room or the availability of an escalator? Peele’s movies are so meticulously ridden in detail that they invite you to search every corner of the frame and every line of “throw-away dialogue” for clues (spoiler alert: every line of dialogue in Us is deliberate). Nothing is an accident. This attention to detail is rare, and it makes discussion (and surely repeat viewings) of Us immensely rewarding. It’s also almost required, because Us makes you work for its precious secrets and ideas. It’s far more thematically challenging than Get Out, and perhaps even thematically richer, depending on your interpretation(s).

There is just so much I have to say about this movie. I want to gush over the use of music, ask people questions about things that went over my head, tell people my elaborate theories, analyze the one scene that is cinematic poetry, and explain how the film’s marketing is genius in hindsight. But, the reality is that this movie is best watched when you know as little as possible going in, which is something I have tried my best to respect while writing this review. Jordan Peele has delivered a one-two punch that rivals Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash/La La Land combo, and if Peele’s career doesn’t fizzle out like those of other horror auteurs, he will surely go down as an all-time great filmmaker (not just horror filmmaker; filmmaker, filmmaker).

Time to read some more theories and see it again.

[I don’t like giving scores to movies, but I want to have a certain title that I give to movies I find particularly exceptional. Well, here we go.]

“Us” is Ben Watches Things Approved

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