Back in 2017, I enjoyed Jordan Peele's "Get Out" (giving it 8/10 stars here). However, my one "beef", if you will, with that flick was that I felt it couldn't stand alone without the social commentary. As a straight suspense thriller, it likely doesn't work. To me, that is where "Us" separates itself from even that solid effort and vaults into the rarified air of all-time classic. It is an incredible social commentary, yes, but can/could also stand alone as just a spooky horror/suspense movie nearly as well.
For a basic plot summary, "Us" tells the story of the Wilson family: husband Gabe (Winston Duke), wife Adelaide (Lupita Nyong'o), son Jason (Evan Alex) and daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph). What starts as a pretty typical middle-class family vacation quickly takes a dark turn when a family shows up in the driveway of their getaway bungalow in the middle of the night. The Wilsons quickly discover that this mystery family is a doppelgänger of their own unit...but in a dark, twisted way. The alternate-Wilsons terrorize the real-Wilsons, and viewers are left in the dark until nearly the very end of the film in terms of why this is happening.
There are so many interesting concepts in play here, some of which include:
-Some great family dynamics and character-building in the early goings. For the social-message piece of "Us" to work we need to care about the characters, and that is not a problem here. The humor gets a bit over-the-top at times, but nothing that takes you out of the experience too much.
-The concept of doppelgängers is always a bit of a spooky one, and "Us" plays this to the hilt. This is where the film can and does work as a straight suspense piece.
-Flashbacks centering on Adelaid's character give the film much-needed backstory and set the table for what is to come. These treks into the past are also wonderful for the little touches that Peale uses to create a sense of place, from the music to the clothing worn and the language/slang spoken.
Then, of course, there is the final 15-20 minutes that quite literally changes everything (which I will not entirely spoil here). There are two ways that "twist ending" films usually work: Either the twist comes as a complete surprise with really no way of guessing it (see: "The Village"), or breadcrumbs are laid throughout and it still manages to catch the viewer off-guard (see: "The Sixth Sense"). As a movie-watcher who is always very engaged in the experience, I have a tremendous amount of respect for the latter approach, and that is exactly what "Us" does to perfection. Not only does the ending completely shock the viewer with its social declaration and implications, but also in how certain signs were pointing that way all along.
Overall, there was never a single minute spent watching "Us" that I was disengaged from the experience. Whether it was the flashbacks, character-building, tension/suspense, or social commentary, this one had me hook, line, and sinker. I'm not usually one for immediately re-watching a film after the original viewing, but this is the rare exception in that it can be experienced in nearly a completely different way once the first viewing is complete and "mentally processed". To me, this is cinema at its finest.
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