Tuesday, March 26, 2019

This is "Us"

2019; written and directed by Jordan Peele

Over the weekend I found myself rushing to the nearest multiplex, eager to get a look at Jordan Peele's extremely well-marketed sophomore effort. 

Everything I'd seen up until that point--the trailers, the enthusiastic reviews from SXSW, the one or two post-release think pieces I couldn't keep myself from reading--led me to believe this was to be one of the most layered and intelligent "horror films" (Peele's own words) released in years.

And it is. But. At the end of the film I left the theater feeling like I'd had a bit too much to eat at Jordan Peele's Creepy-Time 2-for-1 Buffet. 

If this is the first review of Us you've seen, I should probably mention that it's a home invasion thriller in which underground-dwelling doppelgangers take revenge on all of us up here on top of the world.

If that's all Peele's film had done--kept the story and symbolism relatively straight-forward and streamlined--I think he would have emerged with a better film at the end. But perhaps he's trying to double his efforts with this second feature, and in doing so takes on one more metaphor than the story or audience can comfortably handle. 


I'm talking about all the Hands Across America stuff that's sprinkled throughout and plays a major role in the third act. Don't get me wrong, I like the idea. It pokes a finger in the eye of what was a shallow charity stunt from the mid-eighties, and I'm pretty much all for that pretty much all the time. 

Unfortunately, Peele already has so much good stuff going on in this film. The rich concept of doubles; of an underground race, starved for sunlight and fresh air, waiting to strike; of haves and have-nots and American culture and history.

But Hands Across America forces Peele to take things one or two more steps further than necessary. In doing so, it demands some story-telling gymnastics that just don't add up to much more than what's already gone before. Worse, it forces audiences to ask questions they never should, like "Wait, she was obsessed with Hands Across America?" and "She organized hundreds of millions of people over 33 years?" and "Why now?" and finally, "Huh?" 

(Though the idea does give the film its final, striking image as the "Reds" hold hands over hills and plains while Minnie Riperton's "Les Fleurs" plays in the background. It's lovely and ironic and leaves you humming a tune, but it's still not worth the price and could have been handled some other way.)

I appreciate Peele's work and have been looking forward to Us since first hearing about it. He's an intelligent and provocative writer and director whose first two films changed the conversation about horror by demonstrating what the genre can do beyond merely spilling blood.

In a way, a horror film like Us is not that different from the Reds. It's finally getting its day in the sun, being showered with critical and commercial success. This day has been a long time coming. So what if it goes overboard proving that it's been worthy all along?


Joe Branham said...

Spot on, though I think I liked the final act more than you.

C. Michael Cook said...

Thanks, Joe. Glad to know someone else saw what I did. :)