This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Kurdt’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Thoroughly enjoyable viewing experience, complete with the comfiest cinema seats I’ve ever sat in, and a girl behind me who kept whispering “what the fuck” every 15 minutes or so. That’s how you know a horror film is working. Us is a catch-22 though. It’s Peele’s follow-up to Get Out, a film that immediately became a horror classic after, like, it’s opening weekend? It was the fastest I ever recall pop culture just saying like “this is a classic, right?” and everyone agreeing. Following that up means that everyone’s going to be seeing and talking about Peele’s next film - which is great - but also essentially guaranteed it was going to be a step down. I’m just a little disappointed it was this much of a step down.
(This whole review has turned out very rambly; I don’t have any idea what I’m talking about)
One thing that surprised me - in a neither positive nor negative way - was how much time was spent with the initial home invasion. I kinda had the idea that the moment with the red jumpsuit family was going to be a jumping off point, so the longer we stayed there was surprising to me. This is all fine of course, this whole massive scene is very well directed, and has some good humour, too. But spending so much time there meant we weren’t able to dive deep into the enigma of the tethereds. And what was disappointing as the film went on was the lack of traction they had behind them. Again, maybe this is the Get Out syndrome spilling over into this film, but I expected a little more? When Red says things like “we’re Americans”, I’m expecting Peele to really get rolling and begin serving us plates of steaming social critique. It does happen later, sort of, but much of the film revolves this Halloween-esque night. What’s odd though is that when all is revealed, Us probably has more ideas floating around than Get Out, but presents them in a far simpler way. While Get Out had simpler, more direct ideas, but conveyed them in a much more complex, interesting way.
I found a lot of stuff just half-established. For example, the tethereds are maybe like the “bad” doubles of us, right? The best example of this is Jason, who constantly plays with the lighter, has a double who takes that further, and loves fire. But then the rest of the family don’t really have a direct correlation to their “other”? Zora runs track and field, and her double…also runs? Was that it? Gabe is an easy-going, jokey guy, so his double is…essentially a neanderthal? But then Tim Heidecker’s double is essentially the same sort of hulking, non-verbal beast too. So maybe Peele’s trying to comment on the bad side of all men being these caveman-like ogres? Elisabeth Moss’ character was shown to be a little vein since she got plastic surgery, so we see her double putting on lipstick amid a killing spree, and then cutting her own face open. The point I’m trying to make is let’s say this was an idea Peele was trying to convey - that we all have a darker, more malicious side of our vices - then it seems strange not to establish that clearer. So then I was thinking that probably can’t be it, because I doubt Peele would be that lazy to not establish these distinctive traits about each character and have their red counterpart play off of them.
This all comes back to the problem with the tethereds is that there’s no reason given for why they exist. It’s just mentioned that they were a government experiment. But to me, that makes the final twist fall completely flat. We have no idea what makes the “real” Addy so scary that we should be shocked that she was the underground Addy the entire time. If Peele is trying to comment on how people who are brought up in good environments vs bad ones - a healthy family vs an underground bunker - turn out far differently, then that makes sense. Obviously “bad” Addy turned out (ostensibly) fine because she lived on the surface, while “good” Addy devolved - despite having a soul, which the other tethereds don’t apparently - but I think we could have all agreed that our environment clearly plays a part in our psyche beforehand. It’s hardly a shocking revelation. But because the tethereds have an unknown purpose, the impact of this twist is lost on me. Maybe Peele is saying that deep down we are all soulless - like the original tethered Addy - because we push people “underground” - the prison industrial complex, oppressed groups - and just go about our lives. Maybe? But there’s a lot of unanswered questions that I found frustrating in the way you don’t really want. There’s almost too many possible answers. It’s hard to straddle that line between leaving unanswered questions that make the post-film discussion fascinating, and ones that make it frustrating. This was the latter to me. Clearly Peele is trying to say something, but it all felt a bit messy and contradictory. Now, obviously maybe I’m “overthinking it.” But I doubt the director of Get Out wants us to underthink his film, and I think every film should be thought about. How much is overthinking?
This also gets a bit heavy-handed at points. Can we do away with biblical references forever? It’s the easiest thing in the world to make a bible reference, and be like “my film is like this thing!”, and make everyone be like “wow, #deep”. (Guys, check out Jeff 4:89 for the real meaning of this review).
I also think we’re over the “bad things happen to people while contrapuntal sound plays” schtick. Do I dig people being murdered while Good Vibrations plays? Sure. It just feels like it’s a lazy way to make a scene memorable. See: the recent Strangers film where everybody creamed their pants over people being killed while 80s pop songs were slapped on top of the scene for that sweet dopamine rush. (the “Alexa [or whoever], call the police” joke is great, though).
And, as much as I was intrigued by the “we’re Americans” line, I kind of hoped for a direct, more scathing critique than something buried deep within a film like this. Get Out was made while Obama was still in office after all, so this was Peele’s first cinematic chance to address the current trump climate. And maybe he does, but the film’s ideas are so vague and oblique that it’s hard to pull any concrete ideas from it. It kinda feels like Peele had so many ideas, that he kind of wanted to juggle all of them at once. And thus everything is a little diluted.
I did like this movie, I swear. But you can see the trap it fell into. Get Out set the bar so high that Us is asking to be cut open and dissected. Think about it, if some no name director you’d barely heard of had made this exact film, the praise would probably be even higher, because the expectations would have been non-existent. (Obviously that version of the movie wouldn’t have had the platform to have a big marketing push and a huge opening weekend, but you know what I mean). Peele is clearly already a master at creating arresting images (greasy haired, blood-spattered, evil smile Elisabeth Moss, I will save you from scientology, just give me the chance), and deserves his moniker as the new master of suspense. I am on board to see everything he ever makes. And maybe Us, on rewatch, becomes a more distilled experience for me. Perhaps its ideas become clearer and the messiness feels like less of a problem. I can definitely see myself returning because this is no doubt a very entertaining film. But for now, I am untethering myself from it, and heading back underground with a slightly disappointed feeling.