Given the praise showered on “Us,” the latest by Jordan Peele, I’m beginning to wonder whether this is the same movie I saw as everyone else, a movie that I found neither as original nor as gripping as the director’s previous film “Get Out.” Or maybe I missed the entire point, whatever it was?
A middle-class African American family arrives at their vacation home, in a middle-class neighborhood near Santa Cruz. From the start, the mood, light and vacationish, carries a whiff of threat, or at least, unease, fueled by an introduction of the mother as a little girl herself, in a situation somewhat creepy as we’re not sure what we’re seeing.
The family (the great Lupita Nyong’o, the teddy-bearish Winston Duke and their teen children) have no sooner put their bags down that they are set upon and brutalized by their own doppelgangers who arrive, dressed in red, utterly vile and utterly violent.
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The family fight back with all they have but soon realize that the threat will not go away. Not only that but they’re not the only ones in danger. Every single person, coast to coast, every person in the world, probably, is stalked and will eventually be destroyed. The doppelgangers, hiding underground and biding their time have now emerged for the final takeover.
The film has been praised to high heaven for its script (Peele also wrote the screenplay for “Us”), Mike Gioulakis’s top-notch performance as cinematographer, and Nicholas Monsour’s editing prouesse, its suspense, its daringness. I missed all of that, or was too soon dumbed down by what I saw as horror film tropes—-how many times for the dead to become undead and rise again does it take for us to realize they won’t stay down, how many walking corpses stabbed, shot at, felled by hammers or baseball bats have to lumber around, dripping blood, before we can’t wait for the end credits to roll?
“Us” did not turn me on to the new, much-praised genre of black horror film, even though it’s crowd-pleasing in the sense of leaving behind the inner-city crime and hopelessness to go into the much lesser-known territory of prosperous blacks behaving and living and allowed to live like their white peers. But what worked beautifully in “Get Out” doesn’t cut it here.
Saïdeh Pakravan is a novelist, film historian and critic living and working in Paris. She is the author of “100 Years of Must-See Films,” available on the site (@spakravantca)