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Us (2019) Movie Review By Justin Aylward

Us Review,

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.


Us (2019) Movie Review By Gianni Damai

Us Review,

Director: Jordan Peele
Writer: Jordan Peele
Stars: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss

Jordan Peele has cemented his legacy as a horror icon. With one stroke, Get Out proved to be not only a blockbuster phenomenon, but a rare cure for the Academy’s allergy to genre films (joining the ranks of Mad Max, and paving the way for Black Panther). Hardly two years removed from Get Out, Peele’s follow up has been one of the most anticipated films of 2019. Us is a film drenched in allegory and prophetic filmmaking with an exceptional dose of horror/comedy to boot. But has it lived up to the hype?

For those of you unfamiliar, Us is an entirely original story involving the Wilson family as they’re antagonised by entities that bare an unspeakable likeness to themselves. As the film bares on, the stakes evolve and the Wilson’s are forced to endure a relentless amount of chaos and terror. By Peele’s own admission, the main theme at work here is that we, perhaps, are the danger to ourselves rather than external forces out of our control. But Us is filled with layer after layer of symbolism and allegory for larger pictures at work. Peele’s mind feels as though it’s stuffing the screen with metaphors that ultimately detract from the superb filmmaking at work.

To break it down more precisely, let me first discuss the exceptional things about Us. In certain regards, this feels like a direct response to criticism that Peele’s penmanship outshines his directorial vision. Us is a visually stunning film, not only in the flawless lighting techniques and camera placement, but also the editing style that brings the picture together. Silhouettes feel effortlessly ominous in the hands of a clever filmmaker, but what Peele seems to perfectly understand is how effective the unseen can be. Simple moments like a character being stalked around a car are elevated by the camera’s point of view lingering on the hunted and never the hunter. Even early moments of the antagonists eerily positioned in front of the Wilson residence strike a cord of discomfort that viewers don’t often experience. And each sudden movement feels like an immediate threat regardless of direct violence. Credit should also be given to Mike Gioulakis who continues to prove himself as one of the greatest working cinematographers today (even just this year, Glass is masterfully shot, if nothing else). Peele’s editor on Us, Nicholas Monsour, also deserves a fair amount of credit. A standout moment in the film’s final act (one I’m very critical of for narrative reasons – more on that later) allows Monsour to flex his talents by juxtaposing an eloquent fight sequence with a significant event from the film’s past. Where Peele falls back on his comedic roots to subdue tension, Monsour wisely keeps the pace consistent enough to keep the audience at a level of unease. Danger is always lurking once the film ignites, and no matter how many times you may laugh, you will never forget it.

Performances are also a major highlight of Us, with chief credit being given to Lupita Nyong’o for establishing convincing anxiety while also presenting what I imagine will be hailed as one of the most iconic villains of the 2010’s. The duality of Us inherently allows Nyong’o to shine, but the creation of the character certainly feels like a risk that pays off. Rather than bottling her rich emotional life in favour of a stoic, intimidating villain, Nyong’o gives both characters complete freedom to feel the height of their emotions while letting the script speak for itself. As a result, Red, the main antagonist of the film, is easily the most compelling character. Even with a spare number of scenes, Red is chilling and emotionally rich to the point of both relatability and unrest. Revelations of Red may convolute the narrative, but the pristine strides in her physical movements and the bone chilling dryness of her voice are enough to hook the audience from the moment she appears. The rest of the cast carries the film well, each nailing the relatable anxiety and comedy within the eccentric circumstances whilst relishing the creepy characteristics of their doppelgängers. But shadow characters are generally resigned to caricatures, whereas Red has a lot more to work with. Which brings me to the major pitfalls of Us.

I should warn readers in advance, Us is a difficult film to discuss critically without devolving into spoiler territory. I will do my very best to explain my issues without diving deep into specifics, but my recommendation is to revisit this section of the review after viewing so you can better understand my points.

With that, I can admit that a large majority of my complaints with Us are in the narrative itself. The first act is a gradual build of tension, whereas the second act is a tense action thriller with a slew of entertaining moments that raise a tremendous amount of questions. The third act is the most problematic because it completely disregards those questions and adds puzzling additions to them. The film’s final twist is so inefficiently expanded on that it actually acts more as a detriment than anything. You’ll find yourself revisiting elements of the film and scratching your head rather than feeling the paramount reveal in the way that it is intended. And what’s worse is Peele’s dedication to allegory within it. Us is a film so swamped in perceived metaphors that it actually ends up drowning in them. The shadow world, if taken at face value, is completely unspecific. Under any scrutiny, the world building suffers from crumbling under the sheer amount of questions it forces the audience to ask. But if taken metaphorically, the various specifics of Peele’s underworld are so vast and nondescript that they completely distract from the narrative. And even worse, if Peele intends for the allegories to be the purpose of his film, then he loses all tension and suspense as a consequence. If I was never meant to care for the character’s of Us, then they’re entirely inconsequential. This leads me to believe that the answer lies somewhere in between symbolism and sincerity. A hodgepodge of ideas struggling to breakthrough the befuddling world building. The problem is not that Us forces the audience to ask questions. The problem is that it forces those questions too soon and ends up distracting the audience from experiencing the film first. And the final twist seems to spit in the face of everything that came before it, only leaving bigger holes in the world building than before.

The only other glaring problem I have with Us is a pet peeve I have in all horror. Sort of in line with the aforementioned issues, several characters narrowly escape death through sheer fortune of writing. Now, I don’t mean that in the sense of, “the car came *this close* to hitting them,” or something. I mean villains specifically give the heroes far too many opportunities to survive and save each other than is altogether necessary. Some of these scenarios are explained through logical conclusions and an understanding of the plan at work. But these entirely deflate tension with the understanding being that certain characters are not permitted to kill others, therefore there is no real threat. Other scenarios are never explained, and leave me frustrated at the convenient fortune of the heroes in spite of logic.

Us is the type of movie I hate to grade. In certain regards, it’s a technical masterpiece that demonstrates exactly why Jordan Peele is hailed as a modern cinematic genius. In other regards, it showcases one of the most frustrating narratives of the year thus far. Regardless, it makes me feel guilty as a critic to prod a filmmaker that consistently makes audiences applaud mid-viewing. Peele’s films are so infectious and exhilarating that it feels almost wrong to judge. But at the same time, those praises of his ability to captivate are exactly why he must be held to a high standard. I have no doubt that Peele is a filmmaker to watch as he continues this journey in his career. And even if Us is not my most critically adored film, I still recommend experiencing it with an audience solely so you can feel the same mesmerising quality that Peele makes look so effortless. 


Get Out (2017) Movie Review by John Walsh


Director: Jordan Peele
Writer: Jordan Peele
Stars: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford

Making his directorial debut, Jordan Peele, has managed to produce a thought provoking, satirical and fast paced horror that delves headlong into the always uncomfortable subject of racism. In this case, it’s the relationship between a young black man, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriends middle-class, liberal family.

Things get the ol’ switcharoo treatment right off the bat here as we witness a young black man, nervously walking through an upmarket suburban neighbourhood in the dead of night, before he gets jumped by the owner of a white muscle car as the eerie ‘Run Rabbit, Run’ blares out. This has the interesting effect of causing the viewer, in this case me, a white male, to immediately cast suspicious eyes on the motives of the predominantly white friends and family of his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), despite her early attempts to dissuade us when Chris asks “Do they know I’m black?”.

She of course slips in that her father voted for Obama twice and would’ve done for a third time had it been possible, something that Dean (Bradley Whitford), her father, is only too keen to mention during his introductory tour of their house with Chris. His fear of awkwardness appears to be vindicated because despite their warm, congenial welcome, the Armitage’s seem to try just a little too hard to show they don’t care about his race, Dean in particular excels at this faux congeniality, slipping in an unnecessary story about some tenuous links to Jesse Owens through his grandfather, which does nothing to relax the perplexed Chris.

And it’s really the interesting dynamic of this relationship between Chris and the Armitage’s, not to mention their two black servants, Georgina and Walter, their bizarre behaviour and also the patronising, prodding of the family’s friends, who appear in their droves for an annual get together, that creates the early tension and discomfort, setting the tone of the film nicely.

From the mother; Missy (Catherine Keener), who attempts to cure Chris of his smoking addiction in one hypnosis session that turns sinister; the strange interactions between the almost robotic like Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and Walter (Marcus Henderson), who act as if they’ve been lobotomised and Dean curiously mentions are like family; to the passive aggressive behaviour of Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones), Rose’s brother, and the abrupt mental breakdown of Andrew (Lakeith Stanfield) following an innocent flash from Chris’ camera, the man from the opening scene who’s now popped up, dressed in ridiculous clothes and acting every bit as strange as the other black people.

The early, cringeworthy, passive racist, but otherwise innocent, interactions between the family guests and Chris gradually take a more sinister turn, however, when the guests quiet themselves into eerie whispers, listening in as Chris heads upstairs and a game of mass bingo appears to turn into a strange cult exercise, headed up by Dean.

Around this point, Peele has the film take a rather implausible turn to a full on horror, pseudo-scientific tale to explain the strange behaviour of the servants, guests and just what the hell is actually happening at the Armitage residence, which admittedly, disappointed me just a little bit. Only a little though. I enjoyed this film the most when Walter was sprinting unnervingly at Chris, out of the darkness, as he had a sly smoke in the middle of the night, when Georgina was looking blankly at herself in the windows and creepily, sneaking around or when the film was only hinting at the menacing motives of the undoubtedly bizarre, but otherwise decorous people around Chris. I also enjoyed the intermittent bouts of comedic relief from Rod (LilRel Howery), Chris’ friend and TSA agent, which started of a little jarring, but grew on me as he became more prominent in the story. The sci-fi twist in the story didn’t spoil the experience for me any, however, and it was generally speaking, well pieced together and worked in the context of the film. There had to be some form of explanation and conclusion to the story, I suppose, and the quick pacing of the film, and also the relatively strong ensemble performance from the cast, meant that I literally didn’t have time to linger on the ‘eureka’ moment of the film.

Speaking of performances, there was a couple of excellent ones in this film, in amongst a pretty decent supporting cast overall. Daniel Kaluuya (Sicario), an up and coming British actor, was the main protagonist, impressive in his role as the young photographer Chris, and for me, was the stand out performer. Whilst Bradley Whitford and Allison Williams delivered equally good showings in their roles as the conniving, villainous, father/daughter combo. Williams in particular had quite the transformation from the beginning, from an innocent lovebird to a cold, calculated, master manipulator. Other noteworthy performances, I would say, are Betty Gabriel as Georgina and Catherine Keener as Missy. Gabriel had some spine tingling, eerie moments, with one particular conversation between her and Chris, where he admits to feeling uncomfortable in the presence of too many white people, being rather impressive. She managed to go through pretty much the emotional spectrum in around 15-20 seconds whilst still maintaining the robotic persona that her character had throughout.

Thematically, it’s pretty clear what the film is trying to achieve. Peele, rather bravely some would say, is highlighting the elephant in the room that is the ingrained, now fairly passive racism, still prevalent throughout Western society in general, but in particular the US. From the unease of the black man at the beginning, walking through the largely white neighbourhood and Chris’ dealings with the police officer at the beginning, to his interactions with the liberal, predominantly white people. It all acts as a sort of microcosmic look into post-Obama America and it’s clear problems with racial issues.

On the film in general, it’s not the best horror I’ve seen in the last few months. That honour still goes to Green Room, but it manages to deliver a good blend of comedy, horror, and towards the end, good ol’ gore to deliver a fairly satisfying experience.