Starring: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss
Director: Jordan Peele
Running Time: 116 mins
Us is an American film about a family whose holiday descends into chaos when a group of suspicious doppelgangers terrorise them over the course of a devastating night.
Jordan Peele burst onto the scene in spectacular fashion two years ago with Get Out, combining brilliant comedy, ingenious drama and a thrilling passion for horror to make one of the most entertaining and memorable movies of recent years. As a result, I had high expectations for Us, and I’m afraid to say that I ended up feeling really disappointed.
While it features striking and bold direction throughout, as well as fantastic lead performance from Lupita Nyong’o, Us really falters when delivering its core premise, getting stuck in a rather one-track story for nearly the whole film, and ending up as a rather non-sensical and simply underwhelming thriller that never really got me on the edge of my seat.
We’ll talk about that in a second, but first off, let’s talk about what works about this film. While it’s far from perfect, Us definitely impresses when it comes to a bold and unique premise that keeps pushing the levels of sheer weirdness and uncertainty to the max from beginning to end. Its story may not make all that much sense come the finish, and it may not prove the most gripping watch throughout, but I certainly found it a striking watch throughout, simply because of just how strange everything is.
On top of that, Jordan Peele returns with his excellent combination of homages to classic horror genres and slick, modern filmmaking. As a result, Us is a visually spectacular watch, and flows (at least on the surface) fantastically well. Following up Get Out with more body horror, as well as an interesting take on the home invasion genre, there is a lot to marvel at about Us, although it often comes off as a little too much style over substance in the end.
And the final positive comes in the form of Lupita Nyong’o’s performance, which is not only the most striking in the film, but certainly the very best of her career so far. A riveting and unpredictable turn that sees her in a more grounded role than usual, all the while still impressing with her fantastic theatrical style, Nyong’o really sets the film alight in its boldest moments, and while there isn’t always the depth or intrigue to back her up, she’s an energetic and hugely exciting lead to follow and support all the way through.
However, while all of that certainly makes Us a striking watch, it doesn’t help when it comes to delivering a truly nail-biting or even simply engrossing story, and the fact of the matter is that Us just isn’t all that entertaining a horror or thriller to watch at any point here, for a variety of reasons.
Of course, this is a different movie to Get Out, so I don’t want to hold it up against that film in every respect. However, the reason Get Out worked so well is because it was a very layered film, piling genre on top of genre, and misdirecting you into thinking you’re watching a completely different film, when the reality is anything but.
Us, on the other hand, doesn’t really have any depth to it, with little character intrigue or emotion coming to the fore at any moment, unfortunately leaving your attention to turn solely to the horror aspect to really find some excitement.
And yet that part of the story, too, is rather underwhelming. Get Out’s genius lay in its twists, while Us takes a far more simplistic and frankly one-dimensional take on the horror genre. It’s never quite breathless or fast-paced enough to solely rely on the thrills of the home invasion as better films like Wait Until Dark do, while its bizarre and bold style always leave you thinking that there’s more to come, when the story in fact is basically just a long night of trying to stay alive against a group of killers.
The villains themselves aren’t all that threatening either, and for a film that aims to create tension and fear in its main characters – which is already made more difficult due to a lack of real emotional depth – I found myself hugely underwhelmed at what’s meant to be a much more frightening and nightmarish watch, simply waiting to see what would come at the end when all the characters would likely survive.
And finally, the film’s ending is the one part of the movie that breaks out from that rather basic core story, yet falls flat on its face when trying to deliver a mind-blowing twist. Again, compared to the spectacular moment in Get Out where you realise what’s actually going on, this film’s finale is a distinctly unsatisfying and frankly incoherent one.
Its often bizarre nature through the second and third act creates a lot of questions that buzz around your head, and while it’s frustrating waiting until the end for answers, there is that sense of anticipation for the twist/revelation that will eventually come and give a satisfying explanation for what on earth has actually been going on.
Unfortunately, the film’s ending just doesn’t make any sense, and even fails to answer a number of the story’s most burning questions and ambiguities, instead diving into a rather random and frankly irrelevant secondary story that doesn’t tie the narrative up well at all, instead ending on a confusing and disappointing note.
Overall, then, I thought Us was quite a let down. While it impresses with striking directing, bold ideas and a fantastic central performance from Lupita Nyong’o, it fails to hit home with an either interesting or even just coherent plot, instead struggling along as it tells a rather simplistic story. It certainly tries to be different, and for that I give it credit, but Us proves a bold film that falls a little too flat, ultimately proving a disappointing watch throughout, and that’s why I’m giving it a 6.8.