“Us” review by Nate and Alex Blake

Nate:

In my last post, I admonished Steven Spielberg for his crusade to bar Netflix films from Oscar eligibility. My views on that haven’t changed. I did also vow not to review any films while they were playing in theaters, but instead wait until they were streaming. I’ve had a few weeks to calm down and I think that I’m just going to pull a Motion Picture Academy and rescind my new rule. But things are still going to be a little different on High Contrast this year. Last year, there were many instances when I made the drives and spent the money to see films that I didn’t have much interest in just for the sake of writing reviews. As a film lover I do feel that it is still my duty to watch films that aren’t in my comfort zone or areas of interest, but last year was also exhausting. I created this site to have fun. So I will still see films like The Favourite, The Meg, Green Book and Puzzle, but I will only do so when they are available to rent and stream. Trips to the cinema will be reserved for films that I am very interested, for one reason or another, in seeing. That brings me to the first such film of 2019:

Us

Jordan Peele set the bar pretty high for himself with 2017’s Get Out, which was a masterful blend of psychological thrills and social commentary. The trailer for Us promised a more straightforward, bloody horror movie and it sure delivers on that front, but the film is elevated by Peele’s careful blending of social commentary and just the right amount of ambiguity. This is a highly re-watchable film that I can’t wait to see again, and I say that as someone who generally detests contemporary horror films. If only they were all this smart or this competently composed. Peele, who not only avoids the sophomore slump here but brings an even more impressive level of skill and style to the project, has cemented his status as one of the best directors, and writers, of his generation.

The premise of Us centers around a vacationing family who is terrorized by their dopplegangers. That’s really all you should know going in to the film. Of course there is much more to it than that, and you should do all in your power to avoid spoilers, but this is also a film that will lend itself to different interpretations and more revelations upon repeat viewing. It’s the rare genre film that will probably cause most viewers to think and feel differently about its themes and characters each time they see it.

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Jason Wilson (Evan Alex) spends some quality time with his doppleganger, Pluto (also Evan Alex).

Just how scary is Us? Pretty damn scary. There was a woman at the theater who yelped loudly at one point (shockingly, it wasn’t Alex).  I can usually spot a kill coming from a mile away in these types of films, but this one surprised me repeatedly. It’s also full of great humor, and none of it is forced or out of place. Like any great horror film, it also has a nerve-shredding score that you won’t be able to get out of your head. 

Us is also made great by top notch acting, particularly from Winston Duke, Lupita Nyong’o and Elisabeth Moss. Nyong’o really nails everything about her role. It’s hard to discuss this performance without going into spoilers, but the film’s biggest twists only work if her portrayals of both Adelaide and Red is perfection, and they are. I worried for quite a while after 12 Years A Slave that she just wasn’t getting the roles that let her really show off her ability. She has been stuck in Disney films for half a decade since winning the Oscar for portraying Patsey, and many of the roles just haven’t been worthy of someone with her talent. Don’t even get me started on how J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson both managed to waste her talents in their respective Star Wars films  I think Nyong’o finally had a decent role last year in Black Panther, but this performance should be a wake up call to Hollywood, because somehow, apparently, 12 Years A Slave wasn’t, that Luptia Nyong’o needs to be in more films, and she should be the lead in more films. She’s just an incredible performer.

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Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o)

It’s very early in 2019, but I can’t imagine Us will be absent from my best of the year list in December.

Alex: 

It’s not often that I see a film and can’t talk about it immediately after walking out of the theatre. On Saturday though, after seeing Us, that is exactly what happened. Nathan asked me what I thought and I told him he had to wait because I was still processing. This question was followed by me sighing a lot as we walked to the car and sitting in the driver’s seat silently for a solid five minutes before I could talk about it. The depth and intelligence of this film makes it one that you will keep thinking about it for days after seeing it. Even now, as I sit here to write about it, I am overwhelmed by the everything I want to discuss.

Let’s start with the performances. As Chris Stuckmann wisely explained in his YouTube review, Lupita Nyong’o’s performance was so great that it will be ignored by the Academy. Her performance as Adelaide was amazing. However, her performance of Red was next level. I am going to have nightmares about her voice as that character for a very long time. Her character was so deep and the twist at the end (no spoilers!) makes her performance ten times more impressive when you realize the entire scope of her story. Winston Duke was also great. When you think about the fact that every actor played two characters, this film becomes even more impressive. The greatest thing about Duke’s performance was the duality in his characters. They were total opposites. Gabe was very funny family man. Abraham on the other hand was a deadly serious character. It was an awesome display of Duke’s range as an actor. It would be a crime if I didn’t also acknowledge Elizabeth Moss. She plays a big role in one of the more memorable sequences in the film. Every role I see her in, I fall more and more in love with her. She is definitely my film crush this time around. She has come a long way since her days as little Zoe Bartlett. Honestly, there was not a single performance in this film that I did not thoroughly enjoy.

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Gabe Wilson (Winston Duke) prepares to “get crazy” with some guests.

As much as I think it is unnecessary to compare this film to Get Out, it’s hard not to considering Jordan Peele is an auteur in that he writes and directs all of his own films. I think the comparison does allow us to examine Peele’s growth and evolution as an auteur. Get Out is the superior film in terms of writing. However, Us has the upper hand, in my opinion, when it comes to visual story-telling. Us didn’t have any super memorable dialogue. But, it did by far have the most twists and turns in the story. With Get Out, at a certain point, you had figured out what was going on. You do not have that luxury with Us. The reveal of the twist comes much later in the film and is much more shocking. The re-watchability of Us is also significant. I feel it is a film that I am going to watch over and over again and enjoy different aspects of it each time and discover something new with each viewing.

This review has been really hard to write simply because I want to discuss specific things about the plot, but I can’t do that and keep this spoiler free.I feel like this is an experience that each viewer needs to go into as a blank slate. And, it is just that, an experience. The directing, storytelling, and score come together to create a piece of art like no other the horror genre has seen in a long time. There are very few filmmakers who I will watch every project they are involved in regardless of reviews, ratings, or word of mouth. One of them though is definitely Jordan Peele.

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