Steve G 🇵🇸’s review published on Letterboxd:
I know many people do this, whether they're on Letterboxd or not, but one of the first things I do when I've finished watching a film is head online to see what kind of reviews and reception it got.
Quite often, if I'm watching an older film rather than something that just came on at the cinema, I will know how it was received beforehand. Even if I don't, I've always been pretty good at gauging what the reaction will be to something if I had no clue how it was received beforehand.
After seeing Mission: Impossible - Fallout for the first time, one of the thoughts that went through my head was that it was so obviously one of the greatest action films ever made. One of the first reviews I read on here of it, I think it might have been David Ehrlich actually, echoed that thought. Watching Us, almost the exact same thought went through my head. Except it's a horror film rather than an action film, obviously. And once again, it seems as though that's a thought echoed by a fair few.
Oh yeah, it's a horror film alright. Not a 'social thriller' like Get Out, although I'm sure that the branch of the film reviewing union that looks down on the horror genre like it just trod dogshit through its lounge will come up with some highfalutin phrase to describe Us. Anything to stop them from looking as though they thought highly of a mere horror film. The very thought!
Us will be harder for them to do that with because it *is* more obviously a horror film than Get Out was. Get Out was Jordan Peele making a "documentary" at the precise time that America needed it most, as the country started to go through a political process which would change it for the worse, perhaps forever. Us is Peele talking about how his country needs to ascend from that personal hell, but as much by facing up to itself as fighting others.
"We're Americans!" exclaims Red Lupita Nyongo'o, as her underground cohorts join together for their 2019 version of Hands Across America. The only question is where do they go next? Maybe Peele will address that in his next film. Which, if it isn't a horror film, I might actually cry about because Get Out and Us represents the extraordinary and almost unbelievably assured and confident rise of a mainstream horror auteur.
While I say that Us is so obviously one of the greatest horror films ever made (I've watched a few, I can make that call with a reasonable degree of confidence), it's also so obviously not a game-changer. It's so unusual and structurally wrong-footing that it's quite unlike almost every other horror film I've ever seen. Films following suit from this would not only have to borrow themes, but they would have to borrow its structure because otherwise their versions will not work at all.
There's no start, middle and end with Us. It rejects the traditional three-tiered structure. There's a start and everything else. The final two-thirds of Peele's film are so relentless that I can't think of more than about a minute's respite in the last 80 minutes of it. The home invasion scene is an elongated section that becomes splintered off into four sections before spreading outwards and never really coming to a stop even at an end scene that is ambiguous, open-ended and disturbingly beautiful.
This encounter is obviously what the stunning trailer is built around, but it really couldn't come close to telling the whole story of how that scene unfolds. Its unpredictability of movement in terms of the four interlopers is remarkable. Us is constantly wrong-footing as it is, but this scene is destined to be analysed in ridiculous depth for decades to come. Chilling and jumpy without using the usual scare tactics but instead relying on quiet and brilliant acting. Nyongo'o will get an Oscar nomination for sure for her performance here, but she should get two. One for Adelaide and one for Red. They are totally different performances, both of them startlingly good.
The spreading of the idea to others was one that I wasn't sure I was going to like when it became apparent that's what Peele was going for, but as his message becomes apparent and the ambiguity of the situation becomes clearer, it's obvious that his move from this as a claustrophobic, one-on-one (family) horror is the correct and natural place to go. In fact, there were several moments where I thought Us might be about to take a wrong step, only for Peele to pull, well, another rabbit out of the hat.
Couple all this with a jarring soundtrack, marvellous gallows humour (Winston Duke is a total hoot) and a sense of commitment from the leads, Nyongo'o especially, and here I have one of those wonderful moments where expectation is more than matched by reality. And I have to say, as a long-time horror fan, you can just tell that the man behind this is a fully paid-up horror fan himself.
It's not just the C.H.U.D. video glimpsed near the beginning or the Jaws t-shirt or Peele turning up to an interview recently dressed like Jack Torrance. There's an affection for horror right the way through Us. Peele wants to scare people and freak them out and for his film to be a part of the history of a genre he clearly loves. But unlike so much horror recently, perhaps too bogged down in 80s nostalgia, he wants to push forward and create an identity within the genre of his own.
It took him two films to achieve that. Under normal circumstances, given the quality of those films, I'd question whether he's already peaked or could come close to those heights again. But there are so many ideas there and hints at themes that could be explored more deeply, as well as the clear feeling that Peele is only just getting started. It's really only Jordan Peele that can stop himself from achieving everything that he is so clearly capable of.