US review: dark, odd and maybe confusing – but it’s compelling

This is not an easy film to explain, simply because to do so would rob you of the enjoyment of its twists and turns. But you know it comes from writer director Jordan Peele, the man who brought us Get Out, so expect surprises. Expect too a dark reading of some aspects of humanity, but also expect a light touch here and there. If you enjoyed the thriller/horror ride that was Get Out, there’ll be much to savour here, with perhaps one important difference.

What is safe to tell you is that Us opens with three brief and seemingly unconnected pieces of information: a paragraph explaining a curious fact about the infrastructure of the United States, a close up of an animal, and a clip of actual news footage from 1986. An odd combination, but knowing this is Jordan Peele you also know none of this is without meaning.

Us deals principally with the fortunes of one family, of whom Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) is our main character. Her husband is Gabe (Winston Duke) and her kids are daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and son Jason (Evan Alex).

We first meet Adelaide as a little girl with her parents at a seaside fair in the California town of Santa Cruz. It’s 1986. A dramatic event there affects Adelaide for the rest of her life, and that event also has severe repercussions for Adelaide’s grown up family, and, without giving too much away, many many other people.

Along the way, we meet Adelaide and Gabe’s friends Kitty (Elizabeth Moss) and Josh (Tim Heidecker) and their two teenage daughters. And folks, that’s about all I’m going to tell you about the plot. Much more has been written elsewhere, but I reckon the least you know going into this film the better.

What we can say is that there are fine acting performances all round, with Nyong’o providing the dramatic impetus and Duke giving us a well delivered and necessary comic counterpoint. (Both actors featured in Black Panther, in case they look familiar to you) I particularly liked Shahadi Wright Joseph’s performance, while Elizabeth Moss, in a few brief but telling scenes, reminds us of her acting chops.

Peele’s writing and directing maintains that air of leaving us not sure what to expect next, and what more could you want in a thriller? Where Us differs from Get Out is, arguably, in its resolution, and in the clarity of its theme. Get Out’s finale, with its hero meting out violent retribution, was one many may not have seen coming. But it did for the most part resolve the story. That’s less the case here, and whether you like it or not will be a matter of how well you like your stories tied up neatly in a bow. Like Get Out, Us gives us a strong sense of the fantastical in its story, but Us leaves some big questions unanswered. Yes, some of the detail of Adelaide’s story is explained, and it’s a good twist at that (but guessable), but a crucial plot point about how one large community came to be is not explained.

While Get Out’s story is clearly set in the landscape of racism, it’s not so clear cut with Us. The biggest clue to this film’s theme is probably its title, and in a way the New Zealand Prime Minister’s post Christchurch massacre remark “They are Us” resonates uncomfortably. As well, those three pieces of information mentioned at the beginning of this review also tie the tale together. Again I don’t want to be too specific for fear of spoiling the movie, but it seems we are broadly dealing with the chasm between the haves and the have-nots.

Us is without doubt unsettling, thought provoking, and compelling. A sense of weirdness and oddness about its story is something I now recognise as a Jordan Peele trademark. I will definitely go see what he offers us next. I enjoyed Us, felt slightly frustrated at not understanding completely what led to the events of the plot, but not frustrated enough to put you off seeing it. Go see it, make up your own mind, and tell us at Crave! what you think.

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