This widely acclaimed follow-up to Get Out didn’t do it for me. Or for my companion, the Thriller Writer who knows a thing or two about the horror genre. Prepped for allegory, satire and clever-clogs stuff, I have to admit by being completely underwhelmed by Us.
Jordan Peele sets his stall out with the portentous opening title sequence, ‘There are thousands of miles of tunnels beneath the continental US. Many have no known purpose at all’. Then there’s the film’s name itself, imposed as cages full of rabbits. This could be a film about the ‘us’ of the main characters; or it could be an allegory of the contemporary state of the union; or it could be film about tunnels. Here we have a nice Black American family setting out on their summer holidays, up-tight beautiful mum Addy (Lupita Nyong’o), nice-but-dumb Dad (Winston Duke), feisty daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and on-the-spectrum son Jason (Evan Alex).
Addy is ill-at-ease here in her childhood holiday home that brings back uneasy memories; and even more so on the uncomfortable beach trip to see their so-called friends, the upwardly mobile, boastful – and white – Tyler family. It seems an improbable friendship even in celluloid, despite Gabe’s hero-worship of the ghastly Josh (Tim Heidecker) and the plastic Kitty (an improbable part for the much-in-demand Elizabeth Moss).
So far so normal – but when Jason goes walk-about we realise with a sense of horror (only a sense, mind) that this is the link to the puzzling opening sequence where a young Addy gets lost in a hall of mirrors at a surreal funfair. It is only through flashback that we learn it was a life-changing experience for her.
On their hasty retreat home after this shock revelation Addy tries to get the family to leave as she has a premonition of impending disaster. And when the alarm clock pings 11.11 mirroring (this film is all about mirrors) the sign ‘Jeremiah 11.11’ with its implicit warning ‘Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape’ (but of course you can’t possibly know this) held up by a weirdo on Addy’s original journey to hell, we know things are about to go awry. Four shadowy figures appear outside the house, holding scissors. ‘It’s us!’ yells little Jason. And then all hell breaks loose as these alter egos wreak havoc on their humans.
At this point what little plot there was evaporates in the never-ending sequences of bloodcurdling violence. We lurch from fight to fight, location to location. I kept wondering if I was missing something, where was all this hidden meaning that critics had waxed lyrical about. The script creaks with such gems as ‘Here’s an ambulance. Maybe it has some bandages and stuff’ (or similar) as does some of the continuity…we were puzzled about Gabe’s glasses which his shadow took but mysteriously reappear on his nose in the next scene. And yes, on one level I did get that underneath each perfect family, white or black, there may be imperfections: the tag line ‘we are our own worst enemy’ rather gives it away; there is rot in the US in those tunnels and so on…but I still don’t understand what all the bunnies are for.
The best thing I can say about the film is that Nyong’o is creepily marvellous with her blank stare, and the score by Michael Abels clangs with atonal threat and suspense. There are also some good musical jokes with the playlist and a virtual Alexa-type assistant. But ultimately because the whole thing was so implausible (and almost 2 hours long), I didn’t find it remotely scary or meaningful, just plain silly.