Us is the follow up to Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, Get Out, but it’s certainly not as impressive.
Us comes from writer-director Jordan Peele, the man who brought us the critically acclaimed Get Out. His 2017 directorial debut subverted our expectations through the manipulation of horror genre conventions, focusing on satire and themes of race in modern America. He pulled the rug from under his audience and explored the idea of white liberal racism but in a way so miraculously entertaining that it announced Peele as a born storyteller.
Get Out remains widely discussed to this day, as it’s a film which will likely never – unfortunately – cease to be relevant. Its grand success is easily accounted for; not only is its social commentary resonant, but it’s an accessible and successful genre film regardless. In wake of its glowing reception, fans patiently anticipated the director’s follow-up, confident that it would continue to explore race in America through another inventive narrative. Us finally arrived just recently and now enough time has passed for audiences to have firmly made up their minds. The time has come to discuss.
Was it what we all expected? In a way, yes. He’s still exploring race in America but he has begun to think much more broadly, widening his scope to analyse American identity as a whole during this trying time. The film concerns a family on vacation who are imposed on by their doppelgängers. An expository flashback shows us the mother, Adelaide – played by Lupita Nyong’o – as a child, who wanders off into a house of mirrors while at a beachside attraction to discover a girl of fearful familiarity. Flashforward to the present.
What are these doppelgängers? Why are they here? What do they want? These are the questions which race through our minds up until the last act. For the most part, Peele’s film is entertaining, funny and the genre elements are effective. It’s a purer horror film than Get Out was and it’s clear that the director has much more fun offering his own riff on such home invasion greats as Michael Haneke’s Funny Games. It’s all very fun, that is, until the last act.
Admittedly, it’s well made and entertaining – just as a film like this should be. However, we’re waiting eagerly for the reveal which confirms Us as much more than an effective genre flick. Unfortunately, the film’s last act feels like a total mess of half baked ideas, vague allegory and poor explanation. It feels as if he had an idea for a great horror film and knew it had to be much more than that to hit the spot, offering up a conclusion accordingly which doesn’t benefit from too much thought. The film’s first act is incredible and, honestly, it felt like this would be better than Get Out…
The opening – touched upon earlier – is so effectively creepy and harbours such a sense of dread. Then, we have the title card and a slow zoom-out of a large number of rabbits all caged separately. It’s a striking image and the score is mesmerising; one of the best in recent memory, even. However, due to our experience with Get Out, we immediately begin to think, and so much more comes to mind. All of these animals are trapped in the same situation, but as they are compartmentalised by boards, none can see the other. It’s a world of suffocation, repression, entrapment, but each individual rabbit can only perceive their own capture; they are homogeneous, but tricked into feeling alone, stolen from solidarity.
Throughout the film, we are trying to work out the greater meaning behind it all, but there is never a moment of satisfying clarity because the conclusion is all too vague. It feels like he was under pressure to make a grand statement but the story wasn’t able to facilitate a coherent statement. Of course, this is opinion and it’s great to hear that audiences have established a connection with its messages. Perhaps Get Out had such a well-conveyed, unique and intelligent message that we tried way too hard to find one in Us – -maybe it’s not quite the point this time around. Regrettably, it feels like it is.
Overall, Us is a very entertaining and well directed horror film. It’s just a shame that it falls apart in the last act when it comes down to its “this is why I’ve gathered you all here today” sermon. Perhaps it would benefit from multiple viewings.
In other news, is Netflix-distributed biopic The Dirt a success?