Us opens with a prologue sequence set in 1986, detailing Adelaide Wilson at a carnival with her parents before she wanders off and gets lost in a hall of mirrors attraction. Her experience is initially unclear but it left her traumatised. In the present day, an adult Adelaide [Nyong’o] (along with her husband Gabe [Duke] and kids Zora [Wright Joseph] and Jason [Alex]) are visiting her family’s beach house in Santa Cruz where the incident took place. Adelaide is apprehensive but tries to make an effort for her family. The evening of the first night, a family of doppelgangers assault the Wilsons.
As with, Get Out, the production design and aesthetic of this feature is pretty special. From the disarmingly simple and relatable presentation to the subtle use of mirrors, reflections, mimicry, twins and duplicated imagery to hit home the constant feeling of off-kilter symmetry. In addition, there is also a pleasant, novel use of the beach as an unsettling location – an open, wide and brightly lit area that is rather atypical for this genre (as previously/perfectly utilised in Jaws). Then we have the sound design, which is hitting all the genre standards with eerie ambience and jump scares galore but more than that, the use of language and communication is marvellous and the score is something else entirely. Michael Abels’ work on Get Out highlighted him as a very talented individual but his choral, percussive score accented with some truly haunting cello components is spellbinding. Description can’t do it justice but Pas De Deux (used in my highlighted scene) is frankly entrancing and should go down as one of the great cinematic horror scores.
On top of the visual and audial elements firing on all cylinders, the co-ordination of body doubles and visual effects is beautiful, ensuring that at no point do we question that there were doubles of the actors on screen. Furthermore, the unsettling performances themselves are wonderfully engrossing and transformative; an exceptional awareness of physicality and movement. The family gel magnificently, their menial daily complaints feel very real and the chemistry is marvellous. More than that, the performances as the tethered, the family’s alternates, addresses issues of entitlement and forced connectivity in an interesting way, through the whimsical exploration of the homes and lives of the surface-dwellers over the invaders.
**major spoilers throughout this paragraph**
For all its groundwork, without a clever or satisfying denouement Us wouldn’t work. More than that, it would become like War Of The Worlds which is made up of great scenes and praiseworthy performances but the entire feature is undercut by a rushed and disappointing finale (combination of the simplicity of HG Well’s ending for a modern audience and the utter lack of consequence). I believe Us succeeds brilliantly but only just. The alternate family turn up quite early in the story and it becomes apparent quite quickly that this story is going to unspool and escalate further than something like Halloween that only fully ramps up the tension in the final act. This reminded me of something like The Cabin In The Woods which evolves midway through beyond its initial premise. But that’s part of the problem because the logistics of the tethered is incredibly difficult to get your head around. We don’t need to know the specificities of what these creatures are but the extent and scale with which they are used (seemingly one for every American, simply living in underground facilities) poses so many questions. But the reason I feel this gets a pass is because it isn’t at all important. The experience outweighs the logic and while it may fall apart under any scrutiny or pressure, what horror film doesn’t? The truth is, the unique imagery sells this film and will ensure its longevity. The fact I have no idea how these beings can exist as exact semi-symbiotic replicas is an irrelevance when compared to the lasting imagery that will stick with me for years to come.
On a deeper level, this film also tries to juggle quite a lot of layered symbolism surrounding class, race, division, entitlement, vengeance, retribution, abuse, neglect and sins of the past. The majority of which is channelled well while others feel a little lost and underdeveloped but the analysis of the psychology of vengeance and how one can lose their humanity or how another can evolve to discover theirs is fantastic. Peele has proven himself quite deft with simple, straightforward concepts that cut to the root of you, which is why I genuinely feel he will continue to produce outstanding cinema but more importantly (on a bit of a tangent) that he is quite possibly the finest choice to helm the new The Twilight Zone series. As for his feature films, I think it would be genuinely difficult for him to make a bad one.
22nd March 2019
The Scene To Look Out For:
One of the most standout sequences in this entire movie is a beautifully shot dance/fight sequence between Adelaide and her alternate. The cinematography, editing, choreography, editing and musical accompaniment all flow exceptionally well and following the immediate revelation of what the tethered are (or at least, what they are believed to be), it is a wonderful harmonising of sound and vision to create something engrossing and captivating.
There has never been any doubt that Lupita Nyong’o is an astonishingly talented actor. She has proved herself time and again and the dual roles she portrays in this feature merely confirm it. So much animosity, fear, hatred and dread are packed behind her eyes and the way she sits, moves and carries herself as both the characters of Adelaide and Red is amazing to the degree that it is extremely difficult to picture anyone else who could be better suited for this role. And that’s before we address the developments in the final moments of the film which make me want to go back and analyse the clues like Adelaide eating strawberries while her family eat junk food, abstains from alcohol and openly admits she doesn’t do well with talking. Brilliant.
“Once upon a time there was a girl and the girl had a shadow”
In A Few Words:
“A lush and captivating feature that suffers only from an issue of maybe too many concepts at work but it’s not nearly enough to tarnish what is an incredible film”