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  Author    Us (2019)  (currently 673 views)
James McClung
Posted: March 22nd, 2019, 10:00pm Report to Moderator
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I mean, does it need an introduction? Let's try for a logline instead; I need the practice, and this film is certainly not lacking in hype:

A Santa Cruz beach vacation hits a typhoon of terror when Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong'o) and her family confront a group of insidious doppelgängers.

...it's serviceable, right? If not, here's the trailer:



Like I said, no intro required. Y'all have probably heard of this one by now. On with the review. I'll try to keep it short and spoiler-free (EDIT: too late; no luck there on the short front).

Let's start with Jordan Peele. I've gone back and forth thinking that, even in the context of his genuine talents, unique style, and unprecedented dark horse ascendance to reputed horror visionary, he's been a little overhyped. I haven't decided that just yet, but I'm pretty confident that, at the end of the day, he's the star of the show when it comes to Us.

No sophomore slump for this dude. Us maintains Peele's signature auteur style but is distinct from his debut (Get Out) and way more ambitious. This is what you hope in a second film, isn't it?

In particular, Peele has especially upped his craft on the directing front. The Santa Cruz amusement park/boardwalk setting is rife with cinematic opportunities, and none are lost on this guy. So many strange and diverse compositions and vibes across the board, ranging from serene, idyllic, carnivalesque, cold, hellish. In particular, there's a very thoughtful, creative use of reflective surfaces (glass, mirrors, etc.) consistent throughout as a motif for the concept of "the double." There are also a number of visual clues, references, and subtext in relation to the plot/themes of the film, which are subtle enough where you have to pay attention but not so obscure that you have to watch the film 10 times and read some essays to catch them all. In a sense, the film's very viewer-friendly in that you could watch it on autopilot and more or less take in the plot (not recommended) but there would be many a reward for those who rewatch.

Peele's also produced a much more overt horror movie this time around. If you're a Tarantino fan, you should especially enjoy how the plot evolves through a number of subgenre incarnations, e.g. slasher, home invasion, gothic, zombies (kinda), surreal, etc. If you're a nerd in general, you might have a fun time spotting the various directorial influences. One scene reminded me of Michael Haneke, which surprises me since Peele strikes me as more of a traditionalist/on the "classy" side of the horror front (Hitchcock, Twilight Zone, etc.).

The cast is superb all around. I mean, I suppose it's obvious, but I do want to stress the significance that all of the actors had to play two roles directly opposite each other. This means that during filming, they would've had no acting partners to play off of as far as their respective doubles and would've had to shoot the same exact scenes in their entire not once but twice (this is days of filmmaking, people). This isn't my personal extrapolation; it's been confirmed by Peele and co. in interviews. I mean, it's far out just thinking about the hard work mentally and physically these actors would've had to put in and pull it off.

Nyong'o is the star of the film (onscreen). Her performance (that is, both of them, collectively) is wild, out there, and unique. I couldn't have anticipated so much range even based on her previous work. This feels like a breakthrough performance, not the latest from an established actor.

Winston Duke is the runner-up and gets the most laughs in his protagonist role as Gabe Wilson. I actually think he has a fairly important role in the film as far as balancing the tone. His character is one of those dudes that just has to make a joke all the time, even when it's inappropriate. He just can't help himself and tends to default to humor when he's in an uncomfortable position. There are many jokes and gags almost exclusively involving Duke during overt horror and dramatic sequences, and because his character/performance, they feel appropriate and grounded in reality where they could've easily felt like the director forcing the humor (although there were many exceptions for me, personally).

Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex deserve their own shoutouts as the Wilson children. They're impressive as far as child actors go and had a difficult job to do as far as adult actors go. A personal shoutout to Tim Heidecker as Gabe's douchebag friend, Josh. Big fan of his Tim & Eric projects (a convert, really), so it was a lot of fun to see him in such a high-profile film and in a more grounded, inherently plot-centric role.

I do have some issues with the film, including some major ones. I won't say much on them and will forego the ones related to the plot, which I've opted to keep silent on in general in the interest of avoiding spoilers. I will say, though, that the plot has a ton of plates spinning and there was many a moment where I was either confused or thought the writing had blundered significantly somehow where perhaps it may or may not have. I do think humor was occasionally used inappropriately and often at the expense of horror/dramatic moments. Sometimes, it wasn't humor per se but some element of the direction, acting, music, etc. (definitely the music half the time) was a little too self-conscious and/or overblown where it seemed more like a parody of a horror movie (I have to wonder if some of this isn't just Peele's style, in which case I'll have to concede a difference of taste). The film also has some significant political undertones, and there were a few moments for me that felt too on-the-nose on that front.

There's a lot more I could say about the film. Not a lot more I want to write (been here a while). Waiting for some pals to see it so we can talk about it one on one. Did want to share my thoughts here, though, in the interest of some discussion and also getting back into writing in general. Used to write reviews like this all the time. Can't believe I didn't burn out sooner.

Overall, I'd recommend the film. I preferred Get Out, which I didn't expect, but fans of Peele shouldn't be (too) disappointed. Let me know what you guys thought or any expectations you might have if you haven't seen it yet. If you made it to the end of my review, I say thankya (Dark Tower anyone?). Perhaps you have some suggestions for me as far as not rambling on so much.



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James McClung  -  March 24th, 2019, 12:45am
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Demento
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I didn't like it. I've always thought doppelgangers were a cool concept, however, I thought the concept behind this movie was kinda dumb and made little sense.


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Angry Bear
Posted: March 25th, 2019, 10:39am Report to Moderator
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I haven't seen it yet, but when I looked up films in my city, it said about this film that it was a thriller comedy. That sort of turned me off. Is it really a comedy too?


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Demento
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Quoted from Angry Bear
I haven't seen it yet, but when I looked up films in my city, it said about this film that it was a thriller comedy. That sort of turned me off. Is it really a comedy too?


No. It has some forced jokes but it's a pure Thriller-Horror.


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James McClung
Posted: March 25th, 2019, 11:45am Report to Moderator
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There’s definitely some comedy in there. I think Peele just can’t help himself. Horror is the front-and-center genre, for sure, but if comedy in your horror really turns you off, this ain’t for you. I definitely prefer my horror comedy-free, but I knew what I was getting into in this case. The scenes that bothered me the most seemed like they were trying for horror but came off super goofy.

I tried to enjoy this on its own terms. My review hopefully reflects that. I wouldn’t recommend it on the grounds of a proper horror cut, but I found it entertaining in and of itself.


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Andrew
Posted: March 25th, 2019, 12:58pm Report to Moderator
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I wish the movie was as good as the review is written!

This was hugely disappointing. It’s like a sophomore Kubrick.

Peele should be commended for his ambition, but you need the bandwidth to realise it. He is talented, no doubt, but simply doesn’t have the skillset to achieve what he wants.

This film desperately wants to be powerful and challenging. It’s fails, and pretty miserably, for me. Kubrick couldn’t have made The Shining so early in his career; I think Peele is hungover from the success of the far better Get Out, and has believed his own hype.

This guy is more Richard Kelly than what he is aiming for.


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Demento
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These kinda movies shouldn't be explained in 90% of the cases. A lot of horror comes off super silly when you try to explain it.

Just leave it ambiguous. I found the explanation for the doppelgängers ridiculous.


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Andrew
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Quoted from Demento
These kinda movies shouldn't be explained in 90% of the cases. A lot of horror comes off super silly when you try to explain it.

Just leave it ambiguous. I found the explanation for the doppelgängers ridiculous.


It was suprising to see Jason Blum attached to this, because this is a guy who is a prototype for what a producer should be.

That said, when you see Written, Produced & Directed by, you know there is potential for an uneven film.

That to me suggests Peele took too much control, and as we are seeing with some of the Netflix titles, it is not bad to have an excellent producer there to save the 'creative' from their own extravagances. Giving too much control is bad. Unless, of course, you're dealing with an actual genius, like Kubrick.

Much as James addressed in his first post, there is cause for concern Peele has been given a status he has not earned.

This isn't a terrible film; it's just a film with too much regard for itself, with a largely sycophantic professional reviewer class toeing the line. The disparity between critic score and audience score on RT is not down to the audience being dumb (as no doubt some critics will assume), but because an audience is almost always the best barometer, IMO.


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Heretic
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I was lukewarm on this, but it looked real good and had real good performances, and that was enough for a fun night at the movies. Not as scary or as funny -- or as good -- as Get out, but I enjoyed it well enough.

Definitely agree with most of the criticisms above, and especially that this seemed like a movie where one person had too much creative control.

Great soundtrack.


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Demento
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Quoted from Andrew
It was suprising to see Jason Blum attached to this, because this is a guy who is a prototype for what a producer should be.

That said, when you see Written, Produced & Directed by, you know there is potential for an uneven film.

That to me suggests Peele took too much control, and as we are seeing with some of the Netflix titles, it is not bad to have an excellent producer there to save the 'creative' from their own extravagances. Giving too much control is bad. Unless, of course, you're dealing with an actual genius, like Kubrick.

Much as James addressed in his first post, there is cause for concern Peele has been given a status he has not earned.

This isn't a terrible film; it's just a film with too much regard for itself, with a largely sycophantic professional reviewer class toeing the line. The disparity between critic score and audience score on RT is not down to the audience being dumb (as no doubt some critics will assume), but because an audience is almost always the best barometer, IMO.


Given that this movie had a 20 mil dollar budget and was essentially made by Peele's production company, I think Jason Blum's part was to secure distribution with Universal because his company has a deal with Universal for the distribution of his own films.

But, I would imagine that he gave Peele freedom on Get Out, because that's his model, give the filmmaker 4-5 mil and as long as they come under budget, they can have creative freedom. After the huge success of Get Out, critically, financially, plus an Oscar, I think he could have done whatever he wanted and no one would have questioned him. After the opening weekend for Us, I doubt anyone will try to do so in his next attempt. What's interesting is that Blum's philosophy is that movies should more or less have an explanation.

When I saw the trailer for the film, I said to myself, I have to watch this to see what's the twist, how they will go about this. Then I saw the movie and it had this silly, illogical, pulled out of nowhere explanation, that I was deflated and slightly annoyed. Just leave it be, don't explain where these doppelgangers came from.



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Demento  -  March 26th, 2019, 4:45pm
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Andrew
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Quoted from Demento


Given that this movie had a 20 mil dollar budget and was essentially made by Peele's production company, I think Jason Blum's part was to secure distribution with Universal because his company has a deal with Universal for the distribution of his own films.

But, I would imagine that he gave Peele freedom on Get Out, because that's his model, give the filmmaker 4-5 mil and as long as they come under budget, they can have creative freedom. After the huge success of Get Out, critically, financially, plus an Oscar, I think he could have done whatever he wanted and no one would have questioned him. After the opening weekend for Us, I doubt anyone will try to do so in his next attempt. What's interesting is that Blum's philosophy is that movies should more or less have an explanation.

When I saw the trailer for the film, I said to myself, I have to watch this to see what's the twist, how they will go about this. Then I saw the movie and it had this silly, illogical, pulled out of nowhere explanation, that I was deflated and slightly annoyed. Just leave it be, don't explain where these doppelgangers came from.


Interesting take. I worked pre prod on a movie called I Miss You Already, and the director, Catherine Hardwicke, talked about how Blum is utterly obsessive about cost savings; even on the personal level. Live what you preach. She told a tale of how he would book multiple coach seats to lay out, rarther than buying business / first; of course, you could argue why not just buy one coach seat if you're about saving cost (!), but this is Hollywood, after all.

What he has done in the past few years - including branching out from horror - is nothing short of spectacular. My understanding was that he cedes creative control artistically, but shepherds the project commercially, i.e. posing the question constantly in terms of how they may play out with the audience, and, as you say, managing cost to maximise returns.

Peele is unquestionably talented, but hype can consume everyone. I'd prefer to see him do something stripped back to develop his skillset next. Us would've been so much more effective had he made it with the experience of a few films under his belt. Still, it's a huge commercial and critical success, so I may just have called this one wrong (I don't think so!), but that's the beauty of film. So much is perspective and opinion-based.


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James McClung
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Interesting discussion. I'm surprised by the negative comments, honestly. If I expected a negative reaction from anyone, it was definitely me. I've got many a good thing to say about Peele, but I'd never make some of the insane leaps some are making in regards to his status as a horror filmmaker specifically (. I also wasn't nearly as crazy about Get Out as others, so I was surprised to find I actually prefer that film to this one.

RE: creative control, I have no doubt Peele got final cut and had Blum's full confidence. I'd be surprised if the two didn't share an open discourse throughout the making of the film. As such, the flaws of the film seem to fall on Peele as much as the strengths, so he has to own them along with everything else. I don't know that I agree he shouldn't have had as much control, though, keeping in mind that can definitely have an adverse effect on the final product.

I agree on the explanation of the doppelgangers. I don't know that it's entirely functional in and of itself, and it definitely doesn't work to the effect Peele has described in interviews. I would've preferred many of the elements to be scaled back and/or restructured.

Andrew, would you care to elaborate more on some of your specific gripes with the film? I think you've made some good points, but they've been mostly broad strokes thus far (not a criticism).



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Andrew
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It felt more like an anthology of short films badly linked together. After the very opening with little Lupita, it just drifted through to the home invasion. It wasn't entertaining. What did we really learn about the characters? I am all for meandering, dialogue-driven explorations of situations and characters, but if you're going to do that, you need Tarantino-esque chops to get by. Peele doesn't have that range in his writing.

The home invasion itself was fun. That was until the tethered versions started to engage with the family; Lupita's tethered voice was painful (her performance was largely mediocre), and offputting. Of course, that's personal preference.

There were some scattered moments in the segment that worked well; the tethered daughter taking out the car guy; the speedboat.

As the story then starts to broaden out to the wider outbreak of the tethered, it starts to lose any sense of cohesion. I actually liked the ending, conceptually, but it felt tacked on. The rest of the movie does not feel like it is building to that moment.

The stakes are low outside the family, which begs the question why bother bringing in the supporting family?

They are deliberately set up as a counter to our main family; that is the purpose of them. Look at this annoying mother who never shuts up; the awful daughters. There's no depth to them. If you're going to introduce this secondary thread, it should have consequence to the story. Take them out, and nothing changes in the main narrative.

Then in closing, we are introduced to the purpose of the tethered, but there has been no real tension for that created (they tried to do it via the news report); instead of bringing in the secondary family and wasting all that time, they could've used it to explore the macro, and fully integrate the ending. It would've made for a more satisfying, cohesive film.


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James McClung
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Appreciate it, man. I thought the first act up to and including the Tethered engaging with the family was the most effective. Not many gripes other than some tonal choices and individual lines of dialogue I didn't care for. The film starts to lose focus and go off the rails for me around the time the other Tethered (outside of the family) are introduced. At that point, it becomes much more of a traditional survival horror (across various incarnations), and much of the intrigue is sidelined until the final act, which is clunky in and of itself.


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Andrew
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Ahh, we're not a million miles away, then. I've reviewed it more harshly due to the near uniform high praise it has had, too.

In recent times, I'd say a bedfellow to this would be Cabin in the Woods. Where that movie was - at least to memory - largely savaged, this one is celebrated, but I realised the majority of the criticisms I've given this could easily be levelled at Cabin in the Woods, which I adored.

Sometimes the chemistry is just not there.


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