Director: Jordan Peele
Writer: Jordan Peele
Stars: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss
Jordan Peele’s new film Us is one of the years most highly anticipated cinema releases of the year. After his debut film Get Out frightened audiences as much as it made them think, Peele has been touted as the next big thing in American cinema. Some cinemagoers on social media have even suggested that – wait for it – Peele scales at the heights only reached by the likes of Stanley Kubrick.
The film stars Lupita Nyong’o as Adelaide, a wife and mother to two young children. Adelaide goes on a family vacation with her husband, Gabe, played by Winston Duke, and the children, Zora and Jason. The destination is Santa Cruz, which sounds nice, but not for Adelaide. It was in Santa Cruz as a child when she wandered off at a seaside fairground that she experienced a traumatic event. In a dark hall of mirrors, Adelaide was confronted by her doppelganger, and can’t forget the deadened face that stared right through her. Now after man years she returns to the scene.
Everyone just wants to have fun but Adelaide can’t shake her nerves. She is wary of the beach, won’t take her eyes off her children, and is standoffish towards Gabe. It appears there is something sinister lurking among the driveways and palm trees.
After some scares at the beach with their part-time, wealthy friends, Kitty and Josh, played by Elizabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker, the family tries to settle in for a quiet evening at home. But then they appear, another family just like Adelaide’s, standing silently in the dark driveway. As they move closer, we can see the figures are doppelgangers. They are bedecked in red jumpsuits and stolid, wide-eyed stares and wielding gold scissors.
As things transpire, it is apparent that the doppelgangers – or the tethered – have risen from the sewers to wreak havoc among the surface dwellers. Terror and dancing ensue in equal measure.There is nothing like hype to ignite cynicism and whether or not this new film can be regarded as anything worthy of classic status remains to be seen. For me, the film is admirable in its scope but fails to chime on any of the high notes it tries to hit. The scares just don’t work. When you are employing from your actors creepy stares and spooky voices you know there’s a creative struggle for solid material. This is kid’s stuff. The jokes are cheap and do nothing more than undercut the scant amount of tension Peele manages to conjure up. The film does nothing noteworthy in any of the familiar set-pieces. The home invasion sequences are quite tiresome in that the story seems to get stuck in its own porridge of ideas, none of which Peele can seem to settle on. Do we really need long passages of exposition from the main antagonist in a horror film? I can just imagine the ever-silent Michael Myers shaking his head.
There is one outstanding moment of invention when Adelaide faces off against Red, her doppelganger; needless to say I have never seen ballet movements used in such a combative way. It is a scene that sizzles and sparkles as the duel is intercut with flashbacks of Adelaide on stage, under lights. I also admire the soundtrack that helps to enliven the film in moments when it threatens to flatline. Peele also shows his potent visualistic skills. He certainly knows how to direct a scene and use the camera to great effect.
Alas, the problems exist in the script. Peele has a lot to say but doesn’t know how to disentangle his ideas in a coherent manner. There are a few unforgivable horror tropes such as the creepy child paintings and the night-time home invasion, which has been done better in more modest film such as The Strangers and The Invitation. There are themes of class struggle, privilege, anti-capitalism, and poverty among others. There are also loosely attached Jungian themes of the dark shadow and the underworld when Adelaide plumbs the depths to face her biggest fear.I also get the feeling that some of these ideas are dropped into the film as a dead-end with no route to a solution. In the future I can imagine film fans puzzling through this film in the way horror fans have done with Kubrick’s The Shining. And I think that is just how Jordan Peele would like it. The film threatens to come to life in the final act but falters again with more needless exposition.
The twist ending – which feels attached as an obligation after Get Out – does not illuminate everything that precedes it, as the best twists do, but instead it just creates more contradictions in the story. In end the film adds up to nothing more than a hollow exercise; an underwhelming story with few genuine thrills and a complicated palette of ideas that submit the viewer into antipathy.