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Movie Review | Us

The Tethered are strangely terrifying and terrifyingly strange in Us

Movie summary: A family's serene beach vacation turns to chaos when their doppelgängers appear and begin to terrorise them. (IMDb)

I was - and still am - a big fan of Get Out, so was a little disappointed that Us never really comes close to matching that movie's level of excellence. This certainly isn't a bad, or even mediocre, movie but there are some serious flaws that prevent it from being labelled anything greater than 'decent' as far as I view this movie.

Not wanting to negative from the start, I will say that this movie looks great and is the most obvious improvement that Jordan Peele has made as a director since Get Out. Unlike Pet Sematary, Us looks like something that belongs on a big screen and is always interesting to look at. The story taking place over a day-night-day schedule certainly helps as the colours change throughout the movie.

Similarly, this movie sounds great and the score by Michael Abels is a perfect accompaniment to the action - there are a few too many 'horror strings' for my liking, but that seems par for the course when it comes to music in horror films and I can let it pass. The varying versions of I Got 5 On It are also used well, especially in the final showdown underground where it is truly amazing.

It's not just audio-visual aesthetic of the film that deserves praise, but the acting too - especially with almost the entire cast acting for two once the 'Tethered' (the doppelgängers mentioned in the summary above) show up and start causing chaos. For most, I imagine that this was almost like playing two separate characters - but not for Lupita Nyong'o.

Nyong'o is definitely the star of Us, and gives the best performance of everyone involved to absolutely justify her central role - and not just as her 'normal' character, Adelaide, but the Tethered version too - called Red. Taking into account where the story goes, it might take some people a second viewing to really appreciate just how good her performance is here.

I also want to take a moment to give some credit to Winston Duke as Gabe. I specify Gabe and not his Tethered, Abraham, because audiences will be used to seeing him as an intimidating physical presence from Black Panther. But it's as Gabe where Duke really shines, radiating screen presence and charisma by the bucket-load - him and Nyong'o are going to be superstars if given the right opportunities.

So, the look and sound of the movie is great, and so is the acting. What's the problem then? Well, the story and tone don't really work at all. Us veers from a straight-up home invasion horror film to what feels like an apocalyptic end of the world situation, then throwing in a Twilight Zone-style twist at the end - Peele may have been practicing for his role as producer on a new series of that show.

The problem is that none of these tones really mesh too well with each other, and the changes in how the movie feels are quite jarring. It may well be a deliberate attempt on Peele's part to keep the audience off-balance and unsure of what's coming, but the execution isn't quite there and it ends up feeling like a number of separate stories pushed together to form a misshapen whole.

The worst part for me was that 'twist' at the end, which was effectively ruined by the marketing. There's a particular shot in at least one of the trailers showing a certain scene that we see most of at the start of the movie. However, if you remember that scene from the trailer and know what's missing, you will figure out the 'twist' pretty much immediately.

Red (Lupita Nyong'o) and Adelaide (Lupita Nyong'o) come face to face in Us

It's that tricky issue of trying to judge the movie separately from its marketing, but it does completely destroy what is clearly intended as an important sequence at the end. If you managed to avoid the trailers or forgot what was in them, Us' story and that ending may well work a lot better for you than it did for me.

The only upside was that I could fully appreciate Lupita Nyong'o's performance in one viewing as I knew what Us was setting up for her characters. The movie does give lots of little hints throughout, so you may well figure out what is going to happen before the end anyway. This description could be seen as a spoiler, but if you can figure out the twist from what I've written, then you would've been ahead of the story in the movie anyway.

There's also the issue of what Us is actually about - this isn't really criticism, but I don't think that the movie is especially clear in what it is about. I've seen people bring up race - continuing from Peele's work on Get Out; society, and American society in particular; as well as how people treat the homeless as an underclass to ignore.

One view that I've read - and agree with - is that Us is about 'us', meaning literally all people. Everyone has their own dark sides and internal demons that they are inextricably 'tethered' to, pushing them down and out of sight, repressing anger and the like which can threaten to explode if pushed too far or it all becomes too much to keep hidden away.

In a way, you could say that it's a movie about mental health and the harm that suppressing 'negative' emotions can have on you as an individual, as well as society at large. As much as the Tethered in this movie want release, maybe it would be better for all of us if everyone was a little more honest and open about their feelings, rather than letting aggression and hatred build up inside.

As you can see, there's a lot to digest in Us, and I would recommend seeing it - it's just that my experience was stained by the marketing giving away a critical plot point, in addition to a couple of poorly-executed tonal shifts that briefly took me out of the movie on more than one occasion. Despite that, not once did I feel that my time had been wasted by what is a(n overly-)complex movie.

Us is a very well made movie with some great performances that unfortunately aren't matched with a screenplay to match. Ultimately, it ends up feeling like a mish-mash of multiple different types of films and doesn't really do any of them justice - certainly not helped by the movie telling us a little too much to leave any mystery, but not enough to be satisfying.


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