After his award-winning directorial debut Get Out, Jordan Peele returns to the director’s chair this year with his new horror film, Us. The movie follows a family whose vacation turns to chaos when their doppelgängers begin to torment them. It made its debut at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival.
Unfortunately, Jordan Peele’s sophomore effort is nowhere near as effective as his debut. Perhaps the single biggest issue with the film is that there is simply too much happening between the various themes the script is trying to juggle. Additionally, the plot, especially when the “big twist” is revealed, is convoluted and requires far too much suspension of disbelief. Because of this, it was somewhat difficult to get into the movie because of all of the questions you had to ask.
The characterization in the film was also lacking. This is perhaps because there were essentially two versions of each character and there was not enough time to develop them all. The characters definitely adhere closely to their archetypes, and as such, their arcs are extremely predictable. For example, you can sniff out with ease that the comedic relief characters are going to become a plot device that pushes the movie into the third act.
Furthermore, the film is nowhere near as effective at building the horror movie suspense as his previous movie. It just doesn’t have the same scare factor. One of the issues with the film is that the threat is rather goofy. The threat in Get Out did require some suspension of disbelief, but the mythology around it was much more well-developed. Since the idea of the doppelgängers is so ridiculous, it isn’t particularly scary. The movie also quickly begins to feel redundant because it is little more than a series of confrontations.
One of the biggest successes of the film was its comedic relief. Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker have many of the funniest moments in the movie, but their characters are sadly underused, only appearing in two scenes. It would have been nice had they been more fully integrated into the film like Lil Rel Howery’s TSA agent in Get Out. Winston Duke’s character is also given some quite funny lines.
The most impressive part of the movie is undoubtedly the performances. Because the actors all play two characters, it is impressive to see the range they show. The actors’ delivery is much better than the trailers would imply. Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke both give very good performances outside of their normal range. Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss are great as the comedic relief. Jordan Peele was also able to get some surprisingly good performances out of the child actor.
The film is strong on a technical level. The cinematography is great, with the surreal look of the shots adding to the dreamlike qualities of the movie. The use of music is also quite interesting. Although there are a few points that occasionally dip into horror movie cliches (loud music kicks in for a jump scare or you can tell something is about to happen minutes in advance because of the way the score is building), there were quite a few moments that worked quite well. The soundtrack was particularly interesting and gave the film its moments that were the most fun.
Overall, Us was a relative disappointment. Although it does feature some great performances and execution, the script is lacking the scares or wit that were expected of it.
Us debuted as the Opening Night Film of the 2019 SXSW Film Festival. It opens in theaters on March 22.