Movie review: US

March 26, 2019

‘US’ is the second film of Jordan Peele, whose debut flick, “Get Out”, was a blockbuster and even got Oscar nominations, but we honestly feel it’s overrated. The same goes for “Us”, also a box-office hit in the U.S. now. It has an intriguing premise about doppelgangers living in the tunnels that are so rampant in the U.S. and they come out of the sewers, but Peele does not succeed in developing this convincingly the way “Get Out” satirized racism.

It opens with a prologue in 1986 set in an amusement park in Santa Cruz, California. A little girl strays from her parents, goes into a house of mirrors and meets her doppelganger. It then jumps forward to the present. That girl, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), is now having a summer vacation by the lake with her husband Gabe (Winston Duke), daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and son Jason (Evan Alex.) Their family is obviously well off.

At night, there’s a sudden blackout inside their house and they see a family of four standing on their driveway, but the street lights are on and there’s no power outage outside. Gabe calls on the strangers but they won’t answer so he goes out with a baseball bat. It turns out the intruders, all wearing red jumpsuits, are their doppelgangers. “Us”, as Jason says. Their poorer versions, to inject some comment about class conflict in our society.

The home invasion begins. Adelaide asks her double who brandishes a pair of scissors: “What are you?” Her lookalike says: “We’re Americans”.  She’s the only one who talks, but with much difficulty and with a scratchy voice. The others just grunts and makes unintelligible noises.

The doubles try to get rid of the originals, but the beleagered family fights back. At this point, we start to lose our interest in the movie since some of the characters do very stupid things, especially the husband Gabe who seems to want to provide some idiotic comic relief. We don’t really sympathize with them and there are instances when some bad things happen to them and our reaction is: “Buti nga!”

It’s pretty obvious that Peele is trying to say something relevant, even preaching, but honestly, not everything makes sense. Some parts work and try hard to be thought-provoking, but they don’t truly coalesce into a cohesive whole and what we end up with is more of a narrative mess. It makes use of Biblical quotations like  Jeremiah 11:1, pays tribute to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, “Hands Across America”, the ballet in “Black Swan” and even Spielberg’s “Jaws” which honestly doesn’t seem to have any connection at all.

It appears he wants to make it a parody of the American dream, where those who failed to make it big wallow in bitterness like rabbits in small cages and resent the success of their happier counterparts. But it’s so derivative and echoes elements of other films like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, “Twilight Zone” and Kubrick’s “The Shining”.

But the acting of Lupita Nyong’o in dual roles is simply splendid. Better than her acting in “12 Years a Slave” for which she won a best supporting Oscar. The corpulent lead star of the hit TV series, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, Elizabeth Moss, is wasted in a supporting role where the most demanding thing she did is to put on lipstick in front of a mirror while acting like a moron.

The film's conclusion shows there's a  big twist in the story, which is exactly like that of the twist in the ending of the local horror movie, "Elemento", directed by Mark Meily in 2016. It starred Cristine Reyes as a mother desperately fighting for her son whose identity is being taken over by an elemental, but it turns out that Cristine is an elemental herself. We wouldn't like to think that Jordan Peele saw this local movie and just copied its ending. But they're exactly the same.