Jordan Peele used to be known as one half of the comedy duo ‘Key and Peele’; then ‘Get Out’ happened and everything changed. That knowing, creepy little movie about white privilege exploded onto the film scene in a shower of awards and accolades.
Us is his second movie, and maybe its unfair to approach it with the level of expectation that we have all seemingly fallen prey to, but with the amount of advertising and word-of-mouth it was almost impossible to avoid some excitement.
A hard film to sum up, relying as it does on a sense of mystery, the trailer showed us a film about doppelgangers arriving in red jumpsuits to terrorize an amiable family led by Lutpita Nyong’o and Winston Duke.
The rest of the story is based on their survival.
I will start by saying I did not enjoy this film, it was shot well and competently by Peele but it was tedious in many ways and took a long time to get to the action. The problem with slow builds is that you actually have to let them build, and when Peele constantly allows the tension to be broken by Dukes gurning jokester or by the overall uneven humorous tone, its hard to stay invested. This films tonal shifts really walk the line between ridiculous and creepy and so when you have fantastical things happening you run the risk of people laughing at what is meant to be scary. My pulse didn’t quicken above a pleasant resting rate throughout the entirety of this movie.
Though not everyone will agree with me, I also found Nyong’o’s acting so over the top with all the wide eyed shocked looks that she did throughout the film that I found it difficult to take her seriously. Having seen the film to its conclusion and understanding the final twist, her acting made a tiny bit more sense on reflection, however you have to watch the entire film to get to that point.
It reminded me of the acting of Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschamel in ‘The Happening’ where they were asked to behave as if they were children; it was a symbolic move on the part of director M. Night Shamalayan who wanted them to appear as childlike innocence in the face of natures wraith. It didn’t pay off in that film as people did not understand what the actors were doing and it just came across as bad acting. For me it didn’t pay off in this film either, when you take these kinds of risk you have to accept that sometimes it won’t work and for me didn’t.
There are also some silly decisions made in the script that caused more unintentional laughs such as a scene near the beginning where Nyong’o is handcuffed to a glass table. Now for some reason she behaved as if that glass table was concreted to the floor and she was unable to get across the room to the fire poker she wanted to use as a weapon. People in my audience laughed their heads off as did I because, well that’s just ridiculous, particularly when you follow up with her snapping the table leg as if it’s a matchstick.
And that is the crux of the problem that I have with this film – it needs to make sense within its own universe and unfortunately the more you think about it and nitpick it and question things, the less it makes sense that way. I like the social commentary, I like the ideas behind it, I think there’s something inherently creepy about your own doppelgänger – a being unrecognisable in some sort of inherently alien and yet so familiar way; but it’s like Peele had all these great ideas and then just chucked them all in a bowl together and served them without making sure that they come together in a cohesive way, that they’re entertaining and that they make sense altogether.
Take the rabbits for instance, now you cannot have that many rabbits in a huge room without food for the 24 hours after the revolution and have them still happily hopping about in that sterile hallway happy as peas in a pod. Those rabbits would have been in horrible pain, suffering gut stasis and dying; I’m a vet nurse, I know these things. Rabbits can’t live that long without food without there being some sort of major health issue. Also animals defecate and I didn’t see any litter trays, I didn’t see any fresh food, I didn’t see any poop, so all those rabbits running around not pooping?? I call bullshit on that.
Another case in point, we are supposed to believe that the scientists who created these people just abandon ship for some reason. Now that doesn’t actually make any sort of logical sense. Why would the government invest money in something and then just leave it? What was the end game in the whole thing in the first place? and why would they not at least euthanise them before they left? there’s no way they would’ve left them running around underground (as if they’d all fit!) causing havoc and potentially being found by the enemy who could use them against their own government. They would have been euthanised. Now if Peele wanted to take care of this particular problem he could have shown ‘the tethered’ rising up and killing the scientists on the first step of their revolution. That would have taken care of that overlong and silly exposition scene, that I can accept and I could believe and it makes sense with the world we live in; but they just abandon them?
I call bullshit on that too.
Not to mention that making them dopplegangers of everyone makes no sense (Peele should have made it one family whose lives ‘the tethered’ just take over). And what was with the ‘Hands across America’ reference that no–one under 40 would understand? What were ‘the tethered’ rising up for? To hold hands in a lake? Really??
Did Jordan Peele suffer from second film malaise? Yes I believe he did.
I believe this film is nonsensical in many ways, there are plotlines that do not follow on from other plotlines, there are actions that come out of nowhere and then disappear again, it just didn’t work as a whole.
So I applaud the sentiment and I applaud the social commentary on the haves and have nots that was apparently the point of the film, but if you have to look it up to understand everything that he’s trying to say and even then you have to do a bit of mental gymnastics to make it all fit nicely, there is a problem with the film.
I’m still eagerly awaiting his next efforts but I will lower my expectations this time around.