Us (2019) | An OK Movie, With More Hype Than Substance

Us 2019 film

I have a couple of biases that I should probably fess up to right off the bat.

1. I have some residual annoyance of Jordan Peele (or at least the critical and public reaction to Jordan Peele), due to the underserved reverence I felt he received from critics (and award shows) after his directorial debut of 2017's Get Out. It wasn't that I thought it was necessarily a bad movie, but it did make me a tad resentful that people made believe it was better than it was. Don't ask why this bothers me so much, because I don't know. But it does.

and...

2. This new Twilight Zone he's hosting (and presumably adding to "creatively") was one of the more massive disappointments in my recent TV-watching history (it made the Game of Thrones finale look Shakespearian, in comparison). Whether this was at all Peele's fault or not, I don't know. But his name is plastered all over it, so he became my scapegoat. See more about my feelings on that clunker, here.

Jordan Peele, proving Academy Awards aren't that hard to get
With that being said, recognizing these biases, I at least attempted to go into his 2019 film, Us, with as open a mind as possible. Did I succeed? I don't know. I think I did, of course. But, then again, don't most people who spout their biased opinions think they're opinions aren't biased?

Either way, I finished this film feeling about as I expected I would. Which is to say, about the same as I did after Get Out. I thought it was fine. Nothing special, nothing terrible, just fine.

Hardly a scathing review, I know. In moved me in so little of a direction, either good or bad, that normally I wouldn't think to write about such a movie as this at all. To my mind, like Get Out, it was just another throwaway cheap thrill. But then I made a quick visit to Us's Wikipedia page. And this is where I saw something that absolutely astounded me: a four-paragraph long section on the "themes and interpretations" of the movie, full of a lot of big words, comparisons, and references from a bunch of pompous people, linking the film to great literary works, great filmmakers like Kubrick and Michael Haneke, biblical metaphors, and how it's about "the duality of American society" (gag).

And what's all this fuss about? A mediocre, forgettable horror movie? Did they watch something different than I did?

It's almost as if there's so much of a desire to see Peele as the next film genius (which why they have that desire is beyond my understanding), that they're projecting more depth and brilliance into his work than what actually exists. One critic, when comparing him to Kubrick (*eye roll*), fawned all over him for being a "true cinephile" because he put references to some great movies inside of this mediocre one. Well, let me tell ya, from first-hand experience. All being a "true cinephile" means is that you're someone who likes and knows about a lot of movies. Hell, Ed Wood was a true cinephile. Doesn't make his movies any better.

Again, though, this isn't to say Jordan Peele is a bad director or writer (although, he certainly appears to be better at the former than the latter). But this acclaim is just too much. And, when comparing him to better, more overlooked directors and writers, it frankly feels unfair. Not to mention dishonest. I mean, does anyone honestly think Peele's first two films were better than half the stuff Wes Craven or John Carpenter did? Of course not. Yet those two film legends never got near the amount of kudos from critics as this guy has (and no one considered them "legends" until they were way deep into their careers). From the way people speak, you'd think we're dealing with the next Tarantino, Rod Serling or Hitchcock. When at best he's the next M. Night Shyamalan. And not Sixth Sense or Unbreakable Shyamalan either. Neither Get Out or Us were anything near that level of creativity. His movies, thus far, have been pure The Villiage level. Signs, at best. Or maybe not even that clever. In fact, something along the lines The Purge may be the more apt comparison.

2013's, The Purge
That latter movie, The Purge, is actually what Us most reminded me of, while I was watching its later half (both movies came off as popcorn versions of Funny Games). Although to give Peele credit, I did enjoy his movie more. But not much more. And, to tell you the truth, I was enjoying Us the most before the doppelgangers ever arrived (oh, if you've not seen it, the movie is about a family at a lake house who, out of nowhere, have another family, who look exactly like them, show up one night and start terrorizing them). Before those lookalikes arrive, the movie actually has a pretty cool, almost Spielbergian vibe to it (very similar to that nostalgic vibe I got when watching Stranger Things for the first time).

It starts out in 1986 with a vintage Hands Across America commercial being shown on an old box TV set (and a VHS copy of C.H.U.D. can be seen off to the side, which I got a kick out of). And there's a scene at a carnival that's as eerie as all hell (kinda reminiscent of the carnival that guy kept dreaming about on the Twilight Zone episode, Perchance to Dream). Nothing too particularly special or exciting happens during any of this, but it was shot very well. I was already feeling hooked and intrigued. So much so that I literally remember thinking, "damn, maybe Peele's gonna turn me this time." No shit. I actually thought that (or at least the gist of it). The film then cuts to the present day and ya know what? The movie's still not losing me. That mysterious, eerie, oddly nostalgic vibe is still running on all cylinders, and I'm itching to see what happens next.

After a few getting-to-know-you scenes on the beach, a couple of intriguing foreshadows of the creeps to come, everyone goes home, it grows late, the power shuts off, and the little kid shows up in his parent's bedroom (wearing a Jaws shirt, which was a touch I liked) to tell them "there's a family in our driveway". Woah. At that, I was genuinely creeped out. Because isn't that just one of the most hair-raising things you could hear in the middle of the night? And it got even more unnerving when they looked out the windows and actually saw the silhouettes of that family standing out there, staring, lifelessly, at the house. Gave me some instant heebie-jeebies, in the best possible way.

The turning point of Us (2019)
But then we meet those silhouettes (a pack of lookalikes; one for each member of the family), we start hearing them speak (and grunt), we start watching the almost comical way they move and fight (the mother and little kids hopping and scrambling around like ninjas, while the father lunges around like a giant oaf), and for the next 40 or so minutes we're left just watching as each member of the family (the real family) run for their lives, hide, and fight off these weird things. And while some of this action is fun to watch (particularly when music from NWA and The Beach boys starts getting incorporated into the mix), there's not really much depth to any of it. Especially to none of those literary extremes the critics blathered on about. There's little-to-no exposition as far as the plot goes, the characters aren't fleshed out any more than they already were, and the intrigue isn't further amped up. It's just a collection of various cool, and sometimes funny action scenes. Nothing more.

By the time the big reveal happens (I won't spoil it), I found myself with more of an "Oh, I get it" reaction than a "holy sh!t, did you see that" one. And then the movie was over. An okay little film that'll go down in the annals of history (if history remembers it at all) as just another "Yeah, I think I remember that one, it was alright." Yet, for some reason, it's currently being lauded as a many-layered masterpiece from a new king of horror. And that's where my frustration comes in.

It's not about disliking the movie (as you can probably tell, I didn't dislike it), but why are people acting this way? Why are we all collectively pretending movies like this are more than they are? Why, when there's Duncan Jones's and Shane Carruth's out there, is Jordan Peele the sci-fi/horror auteur who's getting all the awards, opportunities, and attention?

What am I missing here?