Discover more from Feature Presentation
Revisiting Us (2019)
There's a family in our driveway.
Welcome to Movie Star March Madness, our month-long watch-a-long and countdown to Season 2 of The Vince Vaughn-a-thon. Every day in March, we’re celebrating a different actor, movie star, or famous family - one of which will be our focus for Season 2. Play along with us and leave your daily reviews in the comments. For the full schedule and info, read here.
Just like everyone else on the planet, Jordan Peele's Get Out blew me away. It's easy to forget, knowing now that Bruce Willis was dead the whole time, what a ride that movie was when we first saw it. It seems so obvious now, the twists, the breadcrumbs, the motifs - how it went where it went. But anyone who said they saw it coming is a liar.
I've found, unfortunately, diminishing returns for his next two movies, Us and Nope - a movie I thought was particularly disappointing, (as did the guy in my screening who stood up and said, “Where the fuck is the rest of the movie? That shit ass!" for everyone to hear.) In general, however, it's clear that it was pretty much just me and that guy, as everyone else seemed to love it. In the almost year since its release, I've gone searching for what I'm missing more and more in Peele's work, (remember his Twilight Zone? You and Paramount Plus both forgot, but I didn't...) and this piece was born.
Upon a recent rewatch, I found that most of my feelings stayed the same, loving the home invasion horror and the unbelievably good Lupita Nyong'o performance - while feeling the Jordan Peele of it all to be a tad too convoluted.
First, if you haven't seen Us, here are the basics:
The movie centers around the Wilson family, led by mother Adelaide (Nyong'o), who go on a vacation to her childhood beach in Santa Cruz. Their vacation turns quickly to nightmare when they encounter their four perfect doppelgängers, known as the "Tethered," who are on a mission to kill them. Exactly like them in every way (aside from the matching red jumpsuits and golden shears), the Tethered, who seem to have a match to everyone on the planet, seem interested in replacing their doubles.
It's an allegory ripe for the picking: the duality of human nature and the concept of the "shadow self." Peele cleverly uses the Tethered as a metaphor for the darker aspects of ourselves that we try to suppress or ignore. The film also touches upon themes of class and societal inequality (who is "us" and who is "them" - and how does that happen?), as the Tethered represent the underprivileged and forgotten members of our world.
Peele makes genre movies with a message and this one has a message that can't be missed. He practically comes to your house, pauses the Blu-ray every 20 minutes, and breaks down what's going on. In our A-Listers review of Nope, I thought this was something he started doing with that film. My recent Us rewatch showed that perhaps I was too worried about the horror and not enough about the commentary.
And that's probably because I think that the horror is the best part of the movie. I love a good home invasion thriller and this might actually be one of the best home invasion flicks for the 20 or 30 minutes where that's what it wants to do. The Tethered, as the literal foil to the family, are overpowering in every way, from their speed to their strength to what they know that we don't - it's Home Invasion 101. If you can't fight and you can't run and you can't outsmart - what you can do? You're prey.
It's insanely scary.
And it's all anchored by Nyong'o playing both Adelaide and her Tethered counterpart, Red - the living, breathing incarnations of Good and Evil. But who's who? It's a nuanced and layered performance that showcases her incredible range as an actress.
As Adelaide, Nyong'o portrays a woman grappling with trauma from her childhood, which resurfaces during this nightmare. She conveys the cocktail mix of Adelaide's fear, anxiety, and vulnerability with an honest intensity.
But it's as Red, Adelaide's menacing and otherworldly double, that Nyong'o truly shines. With a guttural voice and a haunting stare, she brings a sense of menace and unpredictability to the character that is both captivating and terrifying. I find her physicality and movements, jerky and inhuman, particularly haunting.
I think those two aspects of the film, the horror and the woman who personifies it, are damn near perfect.
The home invasion scene is a five-star movie.
The rest? The overpowering thematics? A nicely wrapped explanation that's, at best, a little too perfect. (At worst? Total nonsense.) It's all contrived and underwhelming after the powerhouse horror film that preceded it. I'm all for a message. I'm all for a twist. But the ending is just too convenient and hastily explained for me. It's ultimately unsatisfying.
I revisited Us in hopes that all of that would fade away. In what was probably my fourth or fifth viewing, the convenience of wrapping up more than a few loose ends with a five-minute-long monologue that just explains everything still seems too easy. If anything, it reaffirmed that Peele knows how to scare us (the aliens in the barn scene in Nope is insane!) and that Lupita Nyong'o may just be one of our very best.
Thanks for reading Feature Presentation! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support our work.