Movie Review – Us (2019)
Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
Jordan Peele won an Oscar for his hit debut film Get Out. This film, written, produced and directed by Peele, is his follow-up. This film isn’t as satisfying as Get Out. It’s not as sharply written as Get Out. Both films have a crazy premise at their cores, but Peele grappled with the ideas in Get Out more directly than he grapples with the ideas here. In Get Out, Peele addressed ideas of racism and racist ideas among the white, liberal class that might feel like they’re complimenting black people when they were actually condescending or cultural appropriating. That might not be as big an issue as some might believe, but it was an idea that Peele had more command over in that film.
Here, Peele seems to be addressing ideas of wealth and privilege. He doesn’t relate those ideas specifically to race, but one could draw those inferences. Peele’s film is set in Santa Cruz, California. Santa Cruz is a beautiful city and is probably not special when it comes to problems associated with poverty, but such problems as unemployment and homelessness have been particularly troubling in that coastal area. Those problems are not unique and most assuredly are emblematic of many areas, but it’s probable that Peele chose Santa Cruz because it could be representative in real life of his ideas.
Per capita, Santa Cruz has one of the highest property crimes rates in the state, as well as one of the highest rates of homelessness. Over 52-percent of the homeless there experience some form of mental illness, including depression or PTSD. A lot of this homelessness is right out in the open with people sleeping literally on the sidewalk or park benches, but a lot of the time this homelessness is more underground, literally under bridges or in subways or some place that can’t be readily seen.
As I’m reflecting on Peele’s film, I wonder if his story here is a metaphor for the homelessness issue. The plot revolves around what seems like a somewhat affluent, African-American family, not totally rich or very wealthy. They’re probably middle to upper middle-class. At least, they can afford enough to have two homes. One home is in the suburbs of Santa Cruz and one home is near the beach or rather near the bay. They can also afford a boat, not a yacht but a small, motor boat nonetheless.
The family of four includes Ade, played by Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), Gabe, played by Winston Duke (Black Panther), Zora, played by Shahadi Wright Joseph, and Jason, played by Evan Alex. Ade and Gabe are the parents. Zora and Jason are their prepubescent children. They drive from their suburban home to their second home to kick off their summer vacation. After a visit to the beach, later that night, another family of four invade their house and threaten their lives. The hook is that the invading family looks exactly like the family that’s already there, except they all dress in red.
From soap operas like Days of Our Lives to science-fiction like Star Trek, people facing off with doppelgangers or evil twins certainly isn’t new. The question is what’s done with this concept that would make it interesting or compelling. The answer here is not much. At least, the premise in Get Out was more wholly original.
What would help ameliorate the lack of originality is if the metaphor were stronger developed about what the doppelgangers represented. The homelessness angle is the strongest thing that one could guess based on the literal aspects. The doppelgangers literally live underground. One of the characters is mentioned as having PTSD. The opening of this film references Hands Across America, a charity organization meant to fight homelessness, but still the homelessness angle is wild speculation on my part. Peele doesn’t seem as clear as Get Out as to what he wants the grander implications to be.
The metaphor here could also be that the doppelgangers represent the Internet or people’s Internet personas and presences. The metaphor could be one about politics or political discourse in this country. Sometimes, I can appreciate a film that is open to interpretation but there’s a fine line between being open to interpretation and being sheer vague, too unclear or just confusing.
If not for this sci-fi hook, the film would fall in line with numerous home invasion, horror flicks. It’s not as scary or as terrifying as Funny Games (1997) or The Strangers (2008). It’s not as gory as something like The Last House on the Left (1972). It doesn’t draw upon eroticism or any kind of sexual intrigue or danger like Straw Dogs (1971) or Cape Fear (1962). In terms of creating an intense thriller in which the characters are trapped and have to come up with clever ways to escape, this doesn’t compare to films like Panic Room (2002), You’re Next (2013) or Don’t Breathe (2016). It’s also not as bold and as cinematic as something like Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! (2017).
All of those aforementioned films are prime examples of home invasion narratives. They’re top tier. There are middle tier examples like the recent Breaking In (2018). Peele’s film is one that I would put in that middle tier. Like with most of his work, Peele has made more of a comedy. The tension in every scene is undercut with jokes. The level of comedy also drops it in that middle tier. It also gives the film a more satirical tone, but since the metaphor is unclear, it’s tougher to feel the impact of the satire.
For Get Out, suspension of disbelief was required. In similar ways, suspension of disbelief is required here. The existence of the doppelgangers is one that is mind-boggling. How they came to be is not one to be fully grasped, which is fine, but their plan and logistics of which are nonsensical. For Get Out, things were easier to swallow because the scale was limited. Here, the scale is so much grander, trying to be more epic. It’s fine to be more epic in his second film, but I’m not sure the logistics or implications were thought-out fully or if he even fully cared to think it out beyond the opening title card.
Rated R for violence/terror and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 56 mins.