|Hong Kong poster|
I loved the precision of this movie - from the script to the technical execution, everything sings. Peele's record in comedy may cause people to see his success here as a surprise, but you can see the overlap in the way this movie is paced. This whole movie is orchestrated with expert timing - every scare and surprise in this movie hits like a punchline.
Some elements are pleasingly old school - Michael Abels' score, with its eerie choir recalling seventies horror icons like Jerry Goldsmith's theme from The Omen and Lalo Schifrin's The Amityville Horror; the framing of the villains are reminiscent of John Carpenter; even the movie's resolution feels like a play on the idea that evil has already won - but what I loved about Us was that it never feels like empty homage.
Lupita Nyong'o is incredible - Adelaide is agitated by past trauma, and is constantly on edge - while her performance as Red is uncanny - her physicality, at once robotic and graceful, is terrifying. Once their real relationship is revealed, Nyong'o's performance gains new dimension - there is a selfishness to Adelaide which is fascinating.
Is it even selfishness? She wants to protect her family - a familiar desire, that is here stripped of its traditional moral certainty. Adelaide loves her family - but she is also capable of doing terrible things. Red has been rendered evil by her actions, but does the same hold true for Adelaide? Her actions since childhood have not been particularly amazing - she leads a normal life.
Does that absolve her of kidnapping? Isn't she coming from the same place as Red? Wanting to escape?
Nyong'o's multifaceted performance provides no answers, and is even m ore interesting on a second viewing.
Winston Duke, in a complete inversion of his role from Black Panther, is a lame suburban dad who leans into the cheese, but cannot help but fall into the stereotype. His performance becomes even more impressive when juxtaposed with his doppelganger Abraham.
In supporting roles as their friends/neighbours/rivals the Tylers, Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss are also great. One of the most uncomfortable dynamics of the movie is the juxtaposition between the families - while there is a familiarity, there is an airlessness to their interactions. They feel more like neighbours than friends.
Peele's colouring of Gabe (Duke) and Josh's (Heidecker) relationship is hilariously uncomfortable. Their interactions feel more like a subtle game of oneupmanship - the Tylers feel more like a perverse ideal that Gabe is aiming for. In their own way, the Tylers are more dead inside than their Tethered counterparts.
I loved the twist in this movie - at the end of the movie it is revealed that Adelaide is actually one of the Tethered - she kidnapped Red and swapped places with her, growing up above ground to become a loving wife and mother while Red was forced to enact a parody of Adelaide's life.
The movie ends on a great beat, with Adelaide's son stares at her suspiciously. She offers him a half smile - to reassure him that everything will be okay? An acknowledgement of what he suspects? Or - my preference - both?
The ending of the movie presents a great conundrum: can good people be rendered evil by circumstance (Red)? Can people who commit evil acts be good?
There are no easy moral divides here - and the Tethered's final invasion of the surface world feels like retribution - like Red, they have been trapped in a system they have no control over, and now they have broken out.
Us is a great movie, and further evidence that Get Out was not a one-off.
If you are new to this blog, I also co-host a podcast on James Bond called The James Bond Cocktail Hour. Every episode, we do a review of one of the books and one of the movies, picked at random.
In the latest episode we review the 1957 novel From Russia With Love, written by Ian Fleming. Subscribe on iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts!