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  • Ken Ilgunas

"Us" is not a good movie

[I watch a lot of movies, and I dislike many of them, but I only feel provoked to publicly review them when reviewers seem to have their heads up their butts. (Us got 94% approval on Rotten Tomatoes.)]

Jordan Peele’s Us was disappointing. *Spoilers*

1. There’s a tonality problem. My take is that Peele, the auteur, wants the film to be deeply meaningful and disturbing (meeting one’s underworld doppelgänger as a critique of modern society), but Peele, the entertainer, wants it to be a lighthearted and entertaining family-horror feast (with lots of comedic relief, none of which works too well). The tonal mismatch prevents it from committing to a proper mood and movie. Because Us doesn’t leave a clear emotional impression, the movie resigns itself to utter forgettability. (Peele’s Get Out found a much nicer balance between eerieness and humor, but Get Out has its own problems, which I’ll get to in a second.)

2. Us is incoherent. How do the doppelgängers feed themselves? (Rabbits will not provide adequate nutrition, and where do the rabbits get their nutrition?) How do the doppelgängers clothe themselves? Why don’t they all climb the escalator and escape? Why does the mom character seemingly have no memory of being switched when she was eight years old? How are the doppelgängers stronger and faster and more agile, despite having lived in dark, confined spaces (without proper nutrition) their whole lives? What is the symbolic meaning of the hands across America performance art? Isn’t the genocide, that the doppelgängers just carried out, good enough? Who would win in a battle of 300 million scissors versus 300 million guns? (You might say, “Don’t be so harsh, it’s just a movie!” but movies with impossible plots, such as The Matrix, take pains to make sense.)

3. This film says nothing. I think it wanted to say something about how privileged Americans are living off the backs of the underprivileged, and I think that’s a good message and an interesting subject to explore. But the film doesn’t fulfill its mission. It seems like all the symbols (rabbits, scissors, pruning gloves, red overalls) were more random than meaningfully symbolic. I don’t know much about Peele, but I get the sense that he truly wants to write good, important, lasting films, but the bulk of Us and the last fourth of Get Out are mindless, silly slashers that take away from Peele’s ideas and his team’s adept cinematic craftsmanship. (I’d say 2/3rds of Us was spent running, hiding, killing, and escaping—none of which was memorable or all that scary.)

I believe this is another artist’s “sophomore slump,” which almost always results from the inflated ego of an artist whose first project was a smashing success, and his benefactors who want to cash in on a hot name. Us could have spent another whole year in the hands of the screenwriters.

Jordan Peele is a good director, but let’s hold back from calling him the next Hitchcock. I think the best thing he could do is go indie. His ideas are fresh and inventive, but they are squandered when he caters to the masses, mixing in the lowbrow with the high.


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