Coming off of “Get Out” Jordan Peele had a lot to live up too. It was the rare horror movie that got a lot of critical praise and did exceedingly well at the box office. It also won him Oscar gold. How could he possibly live up to expectations for his next film? Does “Us” manage to build off his success or does it come up short?
“Us” follows a family of four out on a summer vacation near the beautiful beaches of Santa Cruz. Unfortunately, the mother Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) reveals that she had a traumatic experience at the beach and is hesitant to go. Her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) manages to convince her though and the family sets out for a fun day in the sun. When they get home, though, they are soon besieged by four strangers who turn out to look . . . exactly like them.
Much like “Get Out” the story of “Us” explores some social themes. While “Get Out” focused on race relations, the narrative of “Us” explores the idea of classism and the classic dilemma of us versus them. As we quickly learn in the movie the other family, who looks exactly like the hero family, represents a class of people who took a different path in life. A group who maybe didn’t have the same opportunities and luxuries. Who were maybe under represented and cast to the side. The story initially offers a shallow black and white look at this issue, but later injects some more layers into it with an ending that’ll certainly leave you discussing the topic with friends or searching online for breakdowns. It’s not necessarily complex, but it’s a story that may not expose itself outright until you’ve given it some thought.
The biggest shortcoming of the film’s plot and pacing is that too much comedy was injected to it. “Get Out” struck the perfect balance of horror and comedy. It didn’t over indulge it’s comedic sensibilities and let the tension really breath. In “Us” I felt that there was a rapid succession of jokes that undercut the tension of the movie. It seemed that almost every dramatic moment in the movie was immediately accompanied by a comedic beat.
Thankfully the comedy is strong and I had a good laugh throughout the movie, but it left the horror elements feeling underwhelming. For example, the alternate family never felt as threatening or as frightening as they should because our main characters were still able to wisecrack or make funny commentary when things should have been unsettling. If some of the comedy had been cut out, I definitely would have found the horrific moments of the movie to be more impactful.
That being said, the movie is amazingly well acted. Because of the actors playing both the normal families and the alternative families we get to see a wide range of talent on display. Lupita Nyong’o, in particular, does an amazing job of playing both roles to the point that it was hard to see them as the same person. I also have to point out Winston Duke. My prior experience to him was when he played the stoic and badass warrior M’Baku in “Black Panther.” Here he plays a dorky dad and it’s completely believable. Guy has amazing range.
Another point where this movie stands out is the music. There are so many unique and beautiful elements at play here. You have the occasional pop culture song, then you have music that has a tribal vibe to it with heavy drums, then there’s the classic horror theme of children chanting, and finally the best use of music in the fim: “I Got 5 On It.” Sometimes a movie will heavily use a song in a trailer that has nothing to do with the movie (see: “Happy Death Day”), but “Us” bucks that trend. “I Got 5 On It” actually features prominently in some key scenes. Including one of the best moments of the movie. The music in this movie is just as memorable as anything else and it’s rare that I can say that especially about a horror movie. After this I would legitimately say you can use “I Got 5 On It” for your Halloween party.
“Us” may not be as strong as “Get Out,” but it’s still a remarkable follow up movie. It delves too far into the comedy at the expense of horror, but it’s an exceedingly entertaining film with a relevant message about today’s social climate. If you were a fan of “Get Out” you’ll definitely want to catch this.