Us ★★½

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

This review may contain spoilers.

I'm comfortable beginning with this: In Us, you can witness Peele's craft improve from Get Out. His confidence, his sense of movement and distance within a wide variety of physical spaces, is evident from every angle. He makes good use of his locations, and the higher-level choice of where to set this story seems shrewd. I like a lot of little things about this movie, most of them visual.

But too much of what comes from the page just doesn't work for me. Maybe it's the way the story asks you to follow a number of intertwined threads rather than stick with one character's perspective. (Horror works better when your POV is focused, limited.) Maybe it's the exceedingly self-conscious information density, where every book spine, VHS cover, and visible clock is a not-so-secret bit of foreshadowing. (Even when you're in a horror universe, I think it's essential to feel "at home" for a while. Stockhausien production design doesn't allow for that; there's too much meaning on-screen.) Or maybe it's that the supposed sharp, difficult bits are in-fact kinda soft. (But then, I thought that same about Get Out, so YMMV.) It's hard to settle on one when you feel all three.

Ninety-degree head-turns and rhythmic snapping play beautifully in a two-minute trailer, but I'm not sure they're the best ingredients for communicating a genuine sense of unholy terror. Peele has dreamed up an intriguing premise here, and he's mining his own subconscious for imagery that's striking when seen in tableau. But there's an absence of deeper-level scares in Us that leaves me cold. Instead, I felt like I was mainly just watching extended bouts of hand-to-hand combat. It says a lot to me that the only time I felt shock was when the first of the tethered twin sisters appears on the staircase and dispenses with her better half in a swift, brutal swing. That was one of just a few moments when Peele raised the stakes ahead of my expectations.

I'm happy to give the story a pass on any number of details and logic-gaffes. But the fact that I have to make excuses for the lack of an airtight seal says something about the quality of Peele's construction, and the level at which he's looking to be judged. That he layers a twist on top of a completely fabricated world also says to me that he's reaching for something with the hope that his arm finds it once it's fully extended. Giving your main character a secret, unknown-even-to-her motivation isn't the type of move that John Carpenter, or Tobe Hooper, or even Wes Craven would make. It's what you do when you're listening a little too intently to what your audience says it wants, and it's giving your creative judgment a case of the Shyamalans.

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