Grade: B
Entire family: Heck no!
2019, 116 min., Color
Thriller-Horror
Universal
Rated R for violence, terror and language
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1 anamorphic widescreen
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos
Bonus features: B+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital
Trailer
Amazon link

We need to talk. I’m not sure how I feel about Us.

I mean, a part of me feels that it’s another tense thriller from Jordan Peele, who first indulged his non-comedic side by writing and directing Get Out. But—and you might call this follow-up Just Try to Get Out—there’s a part of me, maybe my doppelganger, that thinks this latest “horror” film doesn’t make enough sense.

Then again, horror genre writers and directors have never excelled in logic. It was their worst subject in school. For them it’s all about putting the characters quickly in peril and keeping them there for 90 minutes. And Peele does that, right up until the big-twist ending that would have tied Chubby Checker into a pretzel, all the while leaning more in the direction of “thriller” than “horror” for much of the way.

We’re told in an epigraph that there are a bazillion tunnels under the continental U.S., suggesting that whatever horrors we’ll meet in this film will be subterranean denizens—hard to miss, especially since there are also images of rabbits, which evoke Alice’s plunge into Wonderland.

The action begins with a family’s 1986 trip to Santa Cruz beach and boardwalk, where a young girl named Adelaide wanders off from her dad and is drawn to a “Find Yourself” fun-house of mirrors on the beach. Before she enters she passes a guy who’s a cross between a creepy carney and a doomsayer with the sign that reads “Jeremiah 11:11”— which quickly became a popular Internet search. I’ll save you the trouble: “Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto Me, I will not hearken unto them.” Yeah, well, she sees her double inside and whatever else happened when she’s recovered by her parents she’s so traumatized she can’t even tell them (or the audience) what happened.

Flash forward to the present and we see an adult Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) reluctantly agreeing to return to Santa Cruz for a family outing with her husband (Gabe Wilson) and their two children: Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph), whom her father thinks could be an Olympic track star if she applied herself, and Jason (Evan Alex), an odd withdrawn kid who tends to wear a mask up on his head like flip-up sunglasses, ready to put it over his face whenever he wants anonymity. If you’re thinking of Friday the 13th’s Jason and his lake antics, that’s what Peele wants. Throughout the film there are numerous allusions to classic campy horror films, which, of course, means that the hope was for Us to be seen as equally classic and campy.

And you know what? If you try not to think too much and avoid the rabbithole-doppelganger-subterranean blues, you can just float along on the action until that end-twist crashes in on a big wave and it all feels as if it makes sense. Sort of.

Regardless, the main cast does a wonderful job of selling the horror while also switching gears to handle the occasional humor Peele injects to keep it new-school campy. But it’s also a treat to be surprised by Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men, The Handmaid’s Tale), who turns up as the wife and mother of the family’s rich friends at Santa Cruz, playing opposite Tim Heidecker and twins Cali and Noelle Sheldon.

There are plenty of jump-scares here, but thank Peele for not making them too obvious or mechanical. He’d rather his audience thinks about those rabbits and those subterranean people and the whole idea of doppelgangers—not just during the film, but long afterwards. Maybe some things aren’t made to make total sense.

Language: A kid shocks his parents by saying “Kiss my anus” and there are almost as many f-bombs as this family has fingers, with the N.W.A. song “Fuck the Police” prominently featured as well as another dozen or so lesser swearwords

Sex: None, and no nudity, which is a rarity in this genre

Violence: Much of the shock of the violence is in the anticipation, but people are stabbed multiple times; still, there really isn’t much gore until a pool of blood is shown later, and another time blood is used to suggest death since people mostly see blood churning in the water

Adult situations: There are drug references and a husband refers to the bedroom as a “magic room,” but there really isn’t much here

Takeaway: Pay attention, because Jordan Peele certainly loves his end-twists!

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