Sunday 21 April 2019

Movie Review: Us (2019)

A home invasion horror film, Us offers creepy thrills and astute commentary about the American dream.

As a young girl, Adelaide had a bad experience at the spooky mirror-filled funhouse on the Santa Cruz beach, where she bumped into an exact look-alike. More than 20 years later, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong'o) is now married to Gabe Wilson (Winston Duke) with two kids of her own, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex). During a vacation trip to the family's rustic summer home Adelaide's anxieties are reawakened when Gabe insists the family spend a day at the Santa Cruz beach.

Her mood is not helped when she spots the funhouse still standing, and she momentarily loses sight of Jason. But things get a lot worse that night when a family of four lookalikes shows up at the Wilson's doorstep. The vacation turns to horror when the lookalikes invade the house, and Adelaide's worst fears are realized.

Us toys with the concept that everyone has a doppelganger, and combines it with the American Dream as a zero-sum game. Every success is mirrored and tethered by an equivalent failure, and maybe one day, the failures will rise up and demand their share. Here director and writer Jordan Peele has the invading hordes dressed in red jumpsuits, emerging from subterranean tunnels, and generally unable to speak. But they are capable of extreme violence, causing societal anarchy and joining hands across the country.

Through Adelaide's complex character Peele explores the fragility of the human experience, where life's trajectory towards misery or happiness is dictated by one childhood incident. And he may also be more broadly commenting on the United States ("Us"), where haves and have-nots can pretend to exist in separate worlds, but eventually (and maybe now), both the delusion and the peace will shatter with the downtrodden rising to seize control.

Peele does pack his film with sketched-in content, from a preponderance of bunnies to government experiments gone awry and years-in-the-making but barely explained plans hatched in tunnels, passing through the remarkable ability of the tethered revolutionaries to repeatedly come back from the dead. It's all fodder for thought and theories, but also an indication of some lack of writing discipline.

But Us is an otherwise enjoyable romp, combining an overall creepy mood with occasional jump scares and a mean streak of humour. Peele makes excellent use of the vacation home's hidden nooks, the aways unsettling funhouse with too many mazes and mirrors, and recurring symbols from black flag T-shirts to Jeremiah 11:11 references.

And when the time comes to unleash mayhem, Adelaide and her family rise to the challenge, the film's final act veering towards bloody action with even the kids getting into the act of self-preservation. Because everyone has a role in repelling the barbarians at the gate, especially if the barbarians are us.

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