Us ★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

On a moment-to-moment basis, I found this craftily enjoyable, until it dawned on me as a slab of window dressing. (The extended post-discussion with my two buds didn't improve things, either.) Since Peele has buried this in writerly curlicues, it's begging for subtextual analysis, which is why I can't see it as some "don't-overthink-it" doppelgänger invasion flick. Still, I was mostly gripped until the mid-mark, with Peele's predilection for cobbled influences and Abels' eerily choral staccato-ridden score.

The intro scene is a fantastic plot-point, especially because Peele ultimately inverses the positive nature of the "Hands Across America" ad by its vicious endgame. The institutionalized, oppressed Americans can rise from beneath! I also liked the teasing fun of VHS tapes next to the TV: C.H.U.D., The Man With Two Brains, The Right Stuff, etc, a delectably similar take on Noé's shtick in Climax. Which gets additionally beguiling as young Adelaide (Madison Curry) suffers a traumatic encounter in '86 Santa Cruz at the beachside funfair. "Find yourself."

Jump to the present-day, where precarious Adelaide (Lupita Nyong'o), her chirrup husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and two kids Jason (Evan Alex) and Zora (Shahadi Wright-Joseph) go on a vacation to Santa Cruz. Suddenly, these memories come back to haunt Adelaide, which soon coincides with the doppelgänger she found in the mirrored-room. Before that, I enjoyed Peele and DP Gioulakis ratcheting their influences. Such as the connection where Jason's wearing a Jaws t-shirt, and films the surrounding hubbub from a distance, just like Adelaide's own Chief Brody inspection. Or the overhead shot of the looming shadows as the Wilsons walk on the sand.

The inclusion of Jeremiah's 11:11 verse (held by some prophesized homeless man), is another awesome tidbit when the clock ultimately strikes. "I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape." However, some of Peele's ideas are nowhere near as astute. (The frisbee perfectly landing on the circled towel serves no purpose.) Worst of all, the zoom-out opening credits with the underground rabbits, ends up a pointless deviation in its overall linkage. They feature more in the third-act, but are just some roaming digression between the humans and the Tethered, instead of a conceptual supplement. As for the gold scissors, they just came across as a macabre accessory, refusing to mention why it's the Tethered's weapon of choice.

Still, the invasion itself is suspenseful and humourous. "If you wanna get crazy, we can get crazy", Gabe amusingly exclaims to the identical assailants, until they trespass. This is also where Nyong'o's dual performance impressed me—utilizing the wide-eyed reactivity that Kaluuya showed in Get Out, coupled by Red's gravelly croak during the "Once upon a time..." monologue. Between the two, a strong juxtaposition is made: maternal hysteria and violent uprising. Even the subsequent, inspired slash-attack at the Tylers' (Elizabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker) lavish home, is worth it for the exuberant needle-drops to "Good Vibrations" and "Fuck the Police". The irony is taken to its zenith.

After the excitement settled, it struck me that Us' considerations were so weak, particularly between the Real-to-Tethered personalities. I dug how Jason fiddles with a lighter, and his other version is a burned victim. Yet there's no connection to Gabe's affable jokester and his barbarous double, or Zhora's introverted phone-obsessed teen and the constantly smiling villain who hounds her. The Tylers also receive their own versions, and while Kitty's plastic-surgery-turned-face-sliced one has its intriguing, there's lethargy on Peele's part for correlating Josh into someone who just squawks.

Then its most egregious deliverance is the expository dump, whose answers I'd waited for all along. If anything, the great split diopter shot and clever cross-cutting between both young Adelaides is stronger, because Red's affectless, banal suggestion that the U.S. government created the Tethered has no satisfying/emotional deliverance whatsoever. When everything has seemingly returned to "normal", the last-minute twist further complicates it (in a negative way), regarding Adelaide's switcheroo.

Having me ponder: Why would she be scared to revisit Santa Cruz, if she was the Tethered all along? Why would she wait until now to remember this pivotal moment? Why did Adelaide not escape when the opportunity arose? It just would've been exponentially heady if Peele decided to show the real Adelaide adapting to the underground world, and Red learning human mannerisms in the above world, as opposed to its half-formed obliqueness.

With that said, it'd be easy to suggest that scrutinizing each detail can debilitate this experience. Yet instead of the riotous excitement that Peele wanted viewers to discuss, he corners its logic in a tight corner, with the messiness still intact. I do like the duality subtext about fearing the Other, and then conjoining both classes via the final Hands Across America overhead shot. Yet it dabbles in endless clues that ask to be analyzed, and when the majority of them are just façades, a lot of annoyance can set in. I want to laud Peele's imaginative thought-process, but if it's just a first draft, then where's the true satisfaction?