Throughout the history of horror, different filmmakers have attempted to innovate and reinvigorate a sometimes repetitive genre. From the birth of body-horror to the rise of the slasher, the process of scaring movie-goers has taken many forms over the years. Following up the incredibly successful Get Out, writer/director Jordan Peele’s new film Us continuous to deliver a more socially-conscious angle within his own brand of horror. Unfortunately, while it is extremely well made, the scariest part of Us is its contrived mess of a story.
This movie follows Adelaide Wilson, her husband and their kids as they a return to the home that Adelaide grew up in. Traumatised by childhood events, Adelaide fears become reality upon the arrival of intruders that appear identical to her family. Lupita Nyong’o portrays Adelaide with Winston Duke as her partner Gabe, alongside Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex as their children Zora and Jason.
First and foremost, this is a movie supported by some superb filmmaking. The direction is really well done and the performances are good across the board (with Lupito Nyong’o as the standout). Furthermore, the cinematography provides some beautiful compositions and the score will be humming in your ears for days after. With all these positives in mind, it is the negatives that overwhelm the picture. It quickly takes a descent in quality that starts with its pure inability to be scary at all.
This is a film that clearly wants to scare us, yet fails to provide an ounce of tension. Despite depicting what should be a terrifying scenario, the atmosphere is paper-thin and there is almost no build-up to the horror that befalls the family. You need to create an escalating dread with a situation like this, and this is nowhere to be seen. One may forgive the film if it focused more time on character development but the movie does not do that either. All we have to care about these individuals is a backstory that only really matters at the end and some moments of humour. This is a funny film indeed but it should have been scary as well. While an inability to create fear would be the major downfall for most horror movies, it is the story and script that pushes this picture to become the mess that it is.
Jordan Peele clearly wrote this film to be allegory in many ways. While Get Out dealt with race, Us tries to hold a mirror up to wider society. However, it fails to do this as it does not commit to its own metaphorical vision. A premise like this can go one of two ways, either you leave almost everything up to interpretation with minimal explanation or you create deeper mythology and allow the audience to fully understand what is going on. What we see here is a film that quickly loses its focus and sloppily sits somewhere in the middle. It continuously presents plot-holes and explains its events in a manner that distinctively prevents it from being up to interpretation (contradicting moments from earlier).
Once more, taking a more surreal approach could have helped but the movie explicitly reveals certain things and in the process makes very little sense. A particular scene dumps us with exposition that is both nonsensical and completely contrived. Thinking about this story for longer than five seconds will leave anyone confused with the underlying logistics that are presented. These are not nit-picks either as the film fully commits to the course it takes and yet fails to go to the lengths that are needed with the narrative. The concepts that Peele presents are indeed interesting ones but are found within a script that is regrettably poorly written.
Get Out proved that Jordan Peele is a talented filmmaker capable of creating high-quality cinema. With anticipation levels at an all-time high, the release of Us shows us his first miss-step as a writer/director. One would hope that he will take a more focused approach with his next story, building on the mistakes learned here. His biggest strength in both his films has been the ideas put forth, hopefully, he learns to execute them better with whatever he does next.