Rating: 3 out of 5
Us is a film that demands conversation, it’s impossible to walk out of the theater without things to say. Afterwards, however, those feelings and sensations are difficult to articulate. The movies final moments hold a multitude of narrative twists, the kind that force the viewer to reevaluate every event and motive preceding them. So yes it is great. Us is an astonishingly polished sophomore effort from Jordan Peele, his tools are expanding, his cinematic language more nimble. Despite his growth as a director, his narrative focus seems to have broadened, the last third of the film is divisive, the visual flair and fidelity of the first hour gives way to heavy, monotonous exposition. Worse yet the revelations within these final scenes are subject to criticism; while they perhaps strengthen Us’ moral, political and ethical meaning they diminish it’s narrative logic thereby weakening what would have otherwise been a potent and vital ending.
Us follows the Wilson family vacationing at the beach, the matriarch of the family, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), has a particular history with this beach, this is where she first saw her doppleganger when she was a small child wandering the pier with her parents. The main conceit of the film revolves around doppelganger versions of her family members and friends attempting to murder them. The execution is just as much fun as the concept itself. The first twenty minutes of Us present the most exciting developments in Peele as a filmmaker. The opening pier scene is expertly composed, the cuts come slowly, the shots always obscuring something the audience wants to see, either through the framing or the distance. The second early highlight is a dialogue between Adelaide and a friend Kitty Tyler (Elisabeth Moss), the tension in this scene has the rising power of a squealing tea kettle.
The first twenty minutes or so largely remain in the realm of an ominous creeping thriller with some light, surprisingly family-friendly comedy. After this point the film follows a more traditional horror film in terms of scares and structure. The first encounter with the dopplegangers is a fright to behold, Nyong’o in a double role, crafts one of the most memorable horror villains(?) in recent memory. The intro is slow burning and as a result some of Peele’s building of his commentary can be ambiguous and unclear, the other family living next to the Wilson’s, another upper-middle class family named the Tyler’s could’ve have been more fully formed to achieve the full potential of their socioeconomic implications as characters.
Commentary there is, no matter how convoluted or elusive, Us has something to say. The ending adds new layers to the film’s myriad of complexities, and in my analysis of the film’s themes actually serves to increase the potency of the film’s message about class relations, we are always going to envy each other for having more. Us is the problem. The most subtle example of this is the two father’s boats, they have a personal relationship with each other, but they have separate interactions strictly in the realm of material. The father of the Wilson family can afford the lake house, the car, but his boat is a gassy pontoon raft, while the Tyler’s have a souped up mini-yacht. Even within classes resentment, envy and ill-will develop between people through the differences in material they possess. The ending suggests that if we all lived as the “tethered” had, we too would crave revolution.
The ending also suggests something less coherent, which is the actual motivations of the characters themselves. While the final twist is supposed to add new context to the main characters actions and particular events, it dispenses away with any consistency in logic. The last moments are narratively little more than a cheap feeling of revelation, the knowledge given to the viewer in that ending scene makes or breaks the film, those who can forgive the narrative discrepancies will have to overlook a sloppy, shabby reveal that hobbles off screen as soon as it comes on, a means to an end rather than an end.