On Thursday evening, I attended one of the first local showings of Us, the second film written, directed, and co-produced by Jordan Peele.
Although some critics and general audiences may have viewed the film with higher expectations — Peele’s original horror film, Get Out (2017), received a notable amount of praise from professional and amateur reviewers alike — I made a conscious effort to avoid succumbing to the hype from his theatrical predecessor.
The following review contains major spoilers of Peele’s Us, including a discussion related to its overall plot.
Review of Us
Less than 24 hours after the conclusion of its credits (I was the only one who remained in the theater to ensure there wasn’t a mid- or post-credits scene for Us, which there wasn’t), I began reading multiple articles in an attempt to understand what I’d recently watched.
On a personal level of viewing, this is not ideal — not everything has to be explained in a film, nor do I believe that it always should be; however, in this context, I feel like there was too much left to speculate.
According to an interview with Yahoo Entertainment, Peele seems to have recognized this as a potential issue (“I wanted to provide enough answers to satisfy and fascinate”), but I don’t think he was successful, and based on some comments from other viewers, this is a common critique.
Peele’s Us follows the Wilsons, a family of four who is abruptly terrorized by doppelgängers while on vacation in Santa Cruz, California.
As the film progresses, viewers learn that it’s not only the Wilsons who are being targeted.
Everyone in Santa Cruz — and perhaps even the U.S. in its entirety — has been a victim of cloning by the government, and the human duplicates are rising from the extensive underground tunnels across the country to exterminate the “original” human race in a premeditated act of vengeance.
By the film’s conclusion, it’s revealed that the noticeably paranoid Wilson matriarch, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), is actually the real clone.
When the “real” Adelaide was a child, she was knocked unconscious and imprisoned with the human clones by her troubled doppelgänger, who returned to the surface and “stole” her life.
Determined to enact revenge on her clone imposter, Adelaide took on the persona of Red and created a Hands Across America-inspired uprising involving all of the existing human clones.
Regardless of this intriguing premise (including the identity switch twist, which some viewers suspected earlier than others), I found the quality of Us to be severely inhibited by the lack of information and explanations regarding the topic of the clones.
When, how, and why did the government clone U.S. residents?
Approximately how many clones were living underground, and how did they acquire enough freedom to stop imitating their surface-level counterparts?
Once she was no longer in handcuffs, why didn’t the original Adelaide search for an exit to the underground tunnels (Adelaide’s clone imprisoned her in the tunnels and returned to the surface in a rather short time span, which implies that the exit couldn’t have been too far of a distance)?
The number of questions left unanswered seems excessive, and since there appears to be no discernible manner to obtain genuine answers, I found the plot to be unnecessarily simplified, leaving no reward for viewers — especially if they discover the identity switch from early on.
Related viewer critiques, however, may be the result of some Us plot points being designed for audience interpretation.
In an interview with Polygon, the director explains that the presence of the doppelgängers share a connection with “our societal fear … of terrorism, of an attack, of an invader coming in who has been plotting something mysterious.”
He later states that “the only other thing that’s more terrifying than that is the suppressed feelings of what our part [is] in these tragedies,” which I consider interesting.
Themes of in-group fear of the out-group and the “willing[ness of] modern America to gloss over … [past] horrors” (as discussed by a Vox author who was among the group of viewers to prematurely suspect the twist) are definitely present throughout the film, but Peele’s incorporation of such themes unintentionally subverts the plot.
I (and many others associated with the film’s general audience, I presume), was looking for some definable meaning to Us — particularly, more answers to plot questions that arose.
But its conclusion — an extreme long shot of clones holding hands across U.S. landscapes — arrived too soon for some members of the audience who desired a more fully established world than what they were presented.
Pumpkin Rating and Conclusion
2.7 / 5 Pumpkins
Jordan Peele’s Us presents viewers with a genuinely intriguing concept but doesn’t expand it nearly enough, relying too heavily on audience interpretation and oftentimes sluggish pacing (especially during the opening credits rabbit scene and the initial encounter with Red and the Wilson clones) that results in some viewers feeling underwhelmed.
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Jordan Peele Twitter: @JordanPeele
Image Reference: Vanity Fair