I loved Get out (2017) and I went to the cinema to see Us with very high expectations. It turned out to be a mistake. It’s not that it’s a bad movie, not by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not even particularly good as it’s a bit confusing and derivative. What a shame! And now get out (!) of here if you want to avoid spoilers because I cannot avoid them to talk about Us, the second film directed (and written and produced) by Jordan Peele starring Lupita Nyong’o (Oscar winner for 12 years a slave, 2013), Winston Duke, and the young Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex.
Us seemed to me a confused mix of some great films which went beyond being a tribute and was borderline plagiarism. Not that Peele wanted to get away with plagiarism, but everything is really too obvious. Us is one third Funny games by Haneke (the original came out in 1997, the remake made by the same director came out in 2007), one third The invasion of the body snatchers (the original is from 1956), and one third, given the final twist, They live (1987).
The Funny games part is shameless: a wealthy family arrives at the beach house to spend some holidays, suffers an attack at home, has a small boat, the attackers use golf gloves, the father is injured in the leg, there’s a lengthy dialogue with the family on the sofa, they have neighbors on the shore of the lake/river who also get attacked… should I continue? This part lasts so much that I didn’t understand what the director wanted to do. Even though the resolution of the situation of Haneke’s film is different, everything is recreated down to the smallest details. I was a little stunned and I admit that this repetitiveness bored me a bit.
The Invasion of the body snatchers part is also striking when the film changes gear and gives Jordan Peele’s Funny games a wider scope. The theme of the invasion, which is covered by countless films from the Cold War era, is developed here without any major change and the fact that the creatures emit simple sounds instead of speaking reminded me a lot of Donald Sutherland in the final scene of the 1978 remake of Invasion.
Finally, They live: one of the creatures has lived among us humans for many years, she speaks like us, behaves like us, and nobody can tell the difference between her and a “normal” human being! A bit like in the John Carpenter film, where the aliens are indistinguishable from humans except if you wear special sunglasses!
Ok, I know that in cinema (and in literature, and in mythology…) the stories are always the same, what’s wrong with that? Nothing, in principle. But the story of Us is confusing. It looks like Peele lost himself in recreating already existing films and in the meantime he failed to give a logical sense to the plot. It gets to a point in which everything is unexplained and inexplicable where the director sees himself obliged to an explanatory monologue of three or four minutes which, and this takes the cake, doesn’t explain anything! Doppelgangers, dungeons, rabbits, God… it’s a soup of concepts unrelated to each other. What a disappointment!
So, isn’t there anything worthwhile in Us? Of course there’s something good, we’re talking about a good director! The camera work is amazing, there’s humor and it works (this time the comic relief is the father’s character, while in Get out it was the protagonist’s friend), the soundtrack is splendid and the pop songs in it are very well used (for example, Fuck tha police!), and the prologue is superb, easily the best part of the movie. And then, the theme of our obscure self, of the fact that everything we do has a negative side, that our well-being builds on the suffering of someone else… it’s intriguing! But I don’t think that the film manages to treat it in a good way. In fact, the theme intrigues me so much that I am a huge fan of a brand that has researched it far and wide. And yes, of course I’m talking about Star Trek! The mirror universe is present in every Star Trek incarnation, and various duplicates have appeared in all series (a couple of examples: think of the duplicate of Kirk in The enemy within, Data and Lore and William and Thomas Riker in The next generation…)!
But I digress. For me, unfortunately, Us is a wasted opportunity and I hope that next time Jordan Peele will return to the very high levels reached with his first film, Get out. Ciao!
PS: and yes, the location reminded me of The lost boys (1987), but the movie has nothing to do with that!