The short answer is no, of course not, and the short take on Us is that it is great – an accomplished piece of work and a crowd pleaser. Jordan Peele has proven himself to be a skilled director, but the man just can’t help but be funny. He’s got joke blood running through his veins, that is transforming into his screenplays, except that Us is certainly funnier than Get Out, so it must be a conscious decision on some level. The real question is how detrimental is this to the drama, or the emotional engagement of the film.
Lupita Nyong’o stars as Adelaide Wilson, a member of constantly bickering but functional family, and someone burdened with childhood drama. She’s married to Gabe, the walking talking version of a dad joke, and is the mother of two idiosyncratic children. Whilst returning to the location where her trauma took place, she begins to relive her troubles, until her worst nightmare comes true when a doppelganger family appears to torment them.
The film on a base level is terrific. It is a well-made, well-performed addition to the horror cannon and thoroughly entertaining. From the outset Peele replicates the energy from Get Out with fluid and rhythmic filmmaking, there is even a moment where Adelaide shows her son how to get in beat with a song, and as an audience you match that too. The film takes its time to get to the crux of the story, but it is not a slow build, thanks to some clever writing and interesting shot choices – Peele is putting things into place for later, such as Adelaide switching on the lights to cut to the room being flipped around. And when the plot gets going, we have spent enough time with the main family to care when their lives are in danger. The relationship dynamic between Adelaide and Gabe is a strange one, however possibly explainable. Gabe is wonderfully played by Winston Duke, and making his third only big-screen appearance he is the perfect nerdy dad. He’s cringe-worthy to his children, annoying to his wife, but likeable and endearing. His character as a whole though is basically a joke and around for much of the humour, even poking fun at Adelaide when she explains her trauma to him. They seem like a mismatched couple, because Adelaide is cool and reserved, while Gabe is a massive dork, and I know – opposite’s attract right? I was just thinking why on earth she would go for this guy. An answer could be that her lack of social skills goes well with is outgoing, loser attitude, but I think it’s valid to wonder if the intensity of the film is blunter because of their lack of a connection.
What the film manages to do is dodge the Gabe character being pointless, by making him genuinely hilarious. I’ve tried to tackle comedy before, and it’s tough, because how do you describe funny? Duke’s timing works, Peele’s a comic genius, and above all else people that are likeable and silly are funny. There you go. He’s not the only source of humour though, there are plenty of physical and musical gags as well, and these moments got the whole cinema laughing, so much so that there was an overlap to where they were still giggling when something more horror-fuelled was going on. Is that a bad thing? If you would have asked me that question after I saw Three Billboards in Ebbing, Missouri, I would have said yes, totally the jokes take away from the emotion of that film. However with Us I didn’t feel that way at all, and I know why, it’s because of how funny the comedy is, and the competence of the directing. I don’t want to dog on Three Billboards too much, I’ve done that several times before, but the directing in that film is dull, and Peele’s directing in Us is precise and interesting. Even something as simple as the family walking to the beach was shot with style, choosing to take the camera in a god’s eye view position. The film is lit superbly, with the night time horror scenes not being so dark that we couldn’t get a good look at the action, and the editing really astounded me – the climactic fight was remarkable in the way that it was cut together. So my take is that when you have such expert film-making on the go, you can blend humour, and horror, and drama altogether, you’ve earned the right to do so. And when you have an actor at the top of the game like Elizabeth Moss in there as well, you’re really onto a winner.
I think that overall the film is an entertaining thriller that has contradicted some of my criticism that you can’t put comedy and character drama together. The film doesn’t have any real scares, and it’s exciting rather than spooky, also Peele was skimping a bit on the gore. It’s gruesome enough but a couple of times he shied away from the violence, and it didn’t add anything, which made my sick side wish that I got to see the throat being cut open. I don’t come from a position where I can accurately pick apart the films underlying race themes, or its attempt to present the United States as a whole. What I can say is that the way it presented trauma through the Adelaide character worked for me, thanks to a pretty amazing performance from Lupita Nyong’o. She is a screen grabbing actor, almost ethereal and mystifying, in both of the roles she is playing in this film. Peele hasn’t created a ground-breaking movie that perhaps he did with Get Out, because everything is a little vague and the plot runs away with itself at the end. Get Out was more purposeful and despite my enjoyment of Us, some of the horrors were lost at the expense of humour, but the impression I got is that Peele was going for that. Instead of something profound he’s gone for something more genre specific, and punched himself into horror history.