Us keeps us rooted in our seats with its nightmarish charm shrouded in unpredictability, despite showing a few caveats once the curtains are pulled back.
It seems that we have now reached the peak of creative drought in movie names. All we need is one pronoun and voila, problem solved! First there was Him, Them, Her, It, and now, Us.
Us stars Lupita Nyong’o as Adelaide, a woman who had a disconcerting experience in her youth where she ran into an exact double of herself in a funhouse by the beach. Many years later, as a mother of two children, she moves back to that neighborhood despite her trauma, and her troubled past comes to haunt her when, one night, a family of four turn up in her driveway, looking exactly like them. And unfortunately, they don’t look like they’re interested in a housewarming party.
As I also coincidentally heard from my first high school date, I wasn’t sure if things could work out with Us. Don’t get me wrong, I think director Jordan Peele did an excellent job with Get Out, but I didn’t want to immediately put all my hopes and dreams on him for that alone. After all, one-time wonders are common in Hollywood. Besides, after the horror genre had been through nightmare demons, hokey-mask slashers, and alien impregnation, something like doppelgangers seemed a bit too street level to be spooky. After seeing the movie, however, I now end up flinching involuntarily whenever I see scissors.
One thing to note is that this isn’t Get Out, in that this is more of a straight up horror flick rather than a mix between comedy and horror. There are some funny moments for sure, but most of the screentime is filled with blood, blades, and white rabbits. And no being coy with it, this is some well-crafted horror. What’s really scary isn’t having a spider leap out in front of your face; it’s feeling something slowly crawl up your back but not knowing whether it’s a spider or just your imagination. This movie knows that well, because there is taut tension throughout nearly its entire run.
A huge part of the suspense may be due to its main villains: the doppelgangers. While I initially thought the idea was a bit dull, the film executed it masterfully. It is incredible how disconcerting it is to have something that looks human act so inhuman, doubly so if there is a normal human right next to it for comparison. They may make similar movements like us, but what will they actually do when they move? We have no way of knowing, and thus it makes even the most mundane action they perform carry a sinister weight.
The actors play a big part in delivering that creepy familiarity. A standout is Lupita Nyong’o, whose performance as Adelaide’s doppelganger is still recognizable as human yet carries an unpredictable energy that always feels like it’s about to burst out, adding to the tension. Unpredictability is crucial to suspense, and it is present everywhere in the movie. It got to the point where, no joke, I legitimately jumped when I saw cartwheeling. Cartwheeling. If a movie makes that scary, it has to be doing something right. The origin and the truth behind the dopplegangers are also kept a mystery throughout most of the film, which also adds to the thick fog of intrigue surrounding everything.
Which is why it’s all the more disappointing when the story doesn’t match up to the atmosphere. It seems that Jordan Peele’s approach to horror is to put all his scary nightmares into scenes and then weave a story around it. Get Out admittedly had this problem, with its explanation behind its hijinks feeling rather out of tune, but it’s even more noticeable here. Having dopplegangers is fine, but sooner or later you’re going to have to start explaining what they are and where they come from, and that is where the movie lost me.
The hardest part of horror can be explaining the story behind the horror. Horror thrives off of the unknown, of the unpredictable, so when you assign logic to it, you run the risk of the fear factor diminishing. It’s why, sometimes, horror movies don’t even have a concrete answer, and leave it up to the viewers’ imaginations. Should you decide to fully explain, however, you need to find a way to do so that feels in line with what came before. Take Alien, for instance. It was already set in a science fiction universe where a more logical, scientific tone felt fitting. Therefore, having its main threat be a biological organism that operates on such rules fits into the overall context.
With Us, the tone that was set up before the reveal of the doppelgangers’ origins was largely contained and not a little supernatural. Its main threats were still humans, but the concept of doppelgangers existed before in mythologies and urban legends. Say that the funhouse Adelaide went to when she was young was haunted or something, and I’d be satisfied with that. Instead, the backstory behind these scissor-happy clones is one that, while I won’t completely spoil, ties more into the government and science. Not only does it leave a lot of holes and questions, but it’s such a sudden jump in scale and genre and it doesn’t fit at all into the rest of the film’s smaller feel.
That flaw is nowhere enough to bring down the movie, of course, as it is worth the price of admission for the tension alone that will leave a severe phobia of mirror houses. But it is something that keeps me from fully enjoying this movie, like that one tiny juice stain on an otherwise pristine white shirt. It isn’t a deal breaker, but it’s not insignificant either.
If you are a fan of horror, this is something that absolutely deserves a watch. While its end result may come up clunky, the ride getting there is still such a mind-bender that will no doubt inspire an extermination against white rabbits. (They play a part, I assure you) Once you are in your seat, it’s down the rabbit hole we go. Us scares us, traumatizes us, frightens us, but most of all, satisfies us.
…Yes, you! Wanna get film news, exclusive content, competition alerts and lovingly curated content from us to you? Type in your email to hear from us once a month! #nospam