February 8, 2020

A Brief Review of Us (2019)

Us (2019)

It has to be hard for a new horror director with a hit debut to follow it up without the result being a massive disappointment. I thought Jordan Peele's debut film, Get Out (2017), was pretty good despite not being very effective as a horror film, so I was a bit nervous about seeing his next film, Us (2019). Would it show that he was improving as a director, or would it be a flop compared to his first film?

Fortunately, I enjoyed Us. Compared with Get Out, it initially seemed to be a more traditional horror film and did not have the same sort of social message (although it certainly still had one). There was some controversy about whether Get Out should even be considered a horror film, and I don't imagine that would be the case here. At the same time, it was clearly more than a horror film just as Dawn of the Dead was more than a horror film. Us was just weird enough to be interesting and not to feel like something I'd already seen several times. That is a real accomplishment and one that is getting increasingly difficult to pull off.

At its most basic level, the plot involves a Black family going on vacation in Santa Cruz. After one of the children wanders away while they are on the beach, the mother freaks out for reasons we don't yet understand but soon will. Later that night, a group of strangers show up in the driveway of the house where the family is staying. They soon break into the house and provide a shocking surprise that drives the rest of the film. I realize this may make it sound like a home-invasion film, but it ends up being so much more than that.

Much like Get Out, I thought the casting was a real strength. The acting was solid, and the characters were interesting. Peele seems to have a real knack for casting his films and extracting strong performances from everyone involved. This cast had a great look and handled some challenging scenes well. I thought Lupita Nyong'o was amazing, and she held my attention in every scene she was in.

The scope of this film was so much larger than Get Out that it provided some insight into what Peele could do with a bigger budget, more time, and multiple sets. The result was impressive. Us will not be an easy film to top, but Peele seems to be heading in the right direction.

My only real criticism of Us was that I found the time changes (i.e., the story bounces back-and-forth between the present day and 1968) somewhat distracting initially, as it wasn't immediately clear which time we were in and who was who across the different times. I remember thinking at one point that I was going to need to see this again to make sure I was right about how some of the 1968 scenes mapped on to the present-day scenes.

In the end, I found myself surprised to discover that I thought Us was a better film than Get Out. I found myself thinking about it for a few days after I saw it. It is one of those films that demands interpretation but also offers so many possibilities for such interpretation. I think it demands multiple viewings, and I expect it will be the sort of film that offers something new with each viewing.

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