I generally don’t like to post negative reviews, but given the amount of praise this movie has received, I decided to give this one a go. I like Jordan Peele. Get Out was a wonderful movie that successfully walked a tight rope between humor and horror, with a substantial amount of social commentary thrown into the mix that never felt out of place or distracted from the overall story. That being said, Us was a total failure for me on almost every level.
According to Rotten Tomatoes, Us has a 94% approval rating and near universal critical acclaim. I must have seen a dozen different articles in the last couple weeks praising this movie for its cinematic achievements. I have to admit, I don’t get it.
Without going into spoilers, Us takes the rather simple yet engaging premise of an average family terrorized by their doppelgängers at their vacation home and layers in complexity that, while harboring lots of potential, totally falls apart in the end.
I really wanted to like this movie. The first fifteen minutes or so were gripping, and it felt like a lot of thought went into the set up and backstory, at least as far as the individual characters were concerned, but the execution was a complete mess. It felt like a first draft script, full of clever twists and turns, exciting scenes, and a lot of things happening, that needed a good edit and a careful rewrite. I can see how a writer/director like Jordan Peele was able to get free reign with this one, given the success of his previous film, but Us is one of those rare cases where I think outside input might have helped improve the story. Sure, all the pieces are there, but they don’t quite connect, and a lot of the incoherent or muddled elements are written off as “mysterious” or “metaphorical” by the film’s proponents.
To be perfectly honest, I’m not the biggest fan of metaphorical films. Movies like Under the Skin or Enemy, which I would compare this to, don’t work for me, because when something is revealed to be non-literal half-way through the narrative, the tension just evaporates. I can appreciate an idea film that’s more about its message than it is a literal truth, but when a filmmaker goes that route, I have a hard time giving weight to anything I’m seeing on the screen. If the characters and their situation are just an extended metaphor – symbols of something greater, if you will – why should I care when they are threatened with physical violence? If they aren’t real, and the film tells me they aren’t real, then why does it matter what happens to them? This breaking of verisimilitude weakens the overall impact of a movie for me, so when people write off Us as non-literal (of course the US government couldn’t support a population of millions living underground without a mind-numbingly complex infrastructure, it’s a metaphor!), it doesn’t work for me.
I really wanted to like Us, but even at the best of times it reminded me of movies I strongly dislike. The scene where the family meets their doppelgängers for the first time felt like it was lifted straight out of Funny Games, a film that I despise.
Maybe there’s something in this movie I’m not getting. I’m certainly in the minority when it comes to not liking it, but I’ve got to say, Jordan Peele can do better. Get Out was a fantastic movie, and I hope his next endeavor will live up to its legacy.