Jordan Peele's "Us" Starts Strong, But Falls Apart
I just saw the new movie by Jordan Peele, the director & writer of Get Out.
Everybody loves Get Out, and with good reason — it’s an amazing movie. Get Out is a harmonious cinematic experience, from the surface to the sub-text. There’s something there for everybody.
As we say in Miami, that movie was “completo.”
Us, on the other hand, lacked the major things that made Get Out work. This isn’t a controversial opinion as literally the first thing I heard when the movie ended was a couple standing from their seats saying, “Well that wasn’t as scary as Get Out…” This is the common “people’s” opinion on Mr. Peele’s newest movie.
But why doesn’t it work as much as his previous film?
First, the good. I believe Mr. Peele set out to make a solid horror film with a subtle re-centering of ideological focal points: meaning, instead of fawning over the typical Hollywood white Aryan couple, and the wacky black best friend always die first, etc… Instead, we had a solid 1980’s style slasher movie but made from the point of view of black Americans — the racial components are as undiscussed as they are in an Anglo horror movie: Meaning, it is clearly present but taken for granted, or “entitled” as a “privileged.”
My favorite parts of Us were in the first act. I especially loved the beach scenes with Tim Heidecker, as it felt like subtle mockery of white people in general. It truly felt like a lashing out against white American goofiness and the strength minorities require in this contextual environment.
I also liked the “de facto” presentation of the protagonist’s family. I feel like this is where the radical aspect of Mr. Peele’s writing was hiding: In the domesticity of race relations, especially at the level of the luxury class. After all, Us is a summer-house vacation tale.
Also, any movie dealing with doppelgangers is inherently cinematic. Something about that subject.
The mood of the first sequence is also stellar. Really jazzes you up for a bigger experience.
However, the movie quickly falls apart for two primary reasons: Rhythm & Narrative.
First, the rhythm — Because I didn’t know what the hell was going on for so long, and there was no novel spectacle to latch onto while the confusing stuff was happening, I was just kinda annoyed… and eventually checked out of the enjoyment of the piece. It wasn’t fun anymore seeing people run around in red jump suits in scissors, because it wasn’t grounded in anything to me. And so I got bored.
It only took until the very end, during a long ass exposition sequence, that things began to get explained… But by then it was too late, the movie was practically over. And that entire explanation gets invalidated minutes later during the ridiculous (and truly inconsequential) plot twist.
The rhythm of the film would have benefited dramatically if some coherence were given to the mayhem way earlier on in the film. I mean, the movie opens up really strong with that title card about the underground tunnel system. The movie simply waited too long connecting that opening title card to another part of the movie. I feel like it waited until the very end of the film to connect that idea.
Had the film by the early or mid 2nd Act established that some wacky stuff was going on, and that there was so CIA mind control shit going on, like… That’s kind of interesting. You now have my attention, and suddenly the goofy people with scissors seem interesting.
I think the movie rocked from the beginning of the film, until the moment when the thing with the “there’s a family in our driveway” moment happens. That part, with the silhouette of the family in the driveway, was awesome. Super dreamy, it really works in building tension. But once the characters are introduced, and all the doppelgangers are sitting on the couch together… The movie screeches to a halt for me.
That was the moment to introduce at least enough exposition so I care about what’s going on.
And perhaps a little bit more exposition as the movie develops, maybe done in such a way that more is revealed, ala plot twists, that keeps the viewer guessing & curious as to what’s next. Instead, my experience was one of general confusion, which led to simply not caring as much.
Finally, the narrative felt disjointed. What made Get Out work so well is that it felt like a harmonious experience. There was a grander meaning people were distilling from the work, which reflected itself in the minor beats of the drama. You could look at a small detail and see a whole.
A glass of milk in Get Out isn’t just a glass of milk .But this is not so in Us.
Us lacks the narrative depth that Get Out had, which makes the movie feel disjointed, which further adds to a general disconnected feeling from the movie. We want meaning from our movies. Fuck, we just want meaning from our lives. So the director-artist that can provide us with not only solid novel spectacle, but a new zone to express & feel these feelings we’re all carrying around… This is what we celebrate.
Not every movie needs to have a deeper meaning, but we’ve all decided that Mr. Peele is the man capable of giving us this kind of sensory experience, and damn it we want more. We want to be moved, we want to feel, we want to unlock hidden thoughts, we need catharsis.
Because Us lacks any obvious deeper meaning, the weird things in the movie are just weird things in the movie, and all this creates a hazy fog of an experience. And so the movie falls into disharmony. And disharmony simply isn’t as beautiful as harmony.
I saw the movie with a friend and she said she liked the movie because it’s a “straight up horror film” and that’s all she wanted, and that’s what she got.
Sure. At the level of horror, tbh, it really doesn’t work that well either. LOL. It’s just not that scary! I’m telling you, the tension quickly evaporates after the shadow-family leaves the driveway and enters the apartment. Perhaps this movie woulda KILLED in the 1980’s… But it’s almost 40 years later. We want more.
In order for this movie to work, it needed an extra revision at the level of rhythm & narrative.