Us (Official trailer)
I’m going to recommend “Us.” Barely.
Sorry to disappoint Jordan Peele fans but his sophomore directing-writing effort “Us” — for lack of a more diplomatic way to put it — is the typical sophomore effort. It’s a nice try but not quite up to the quality, or cleverness of Peele’s highly-acclaimed, and very original, “Get Out.”
Like his directorial debut, “Us” is a complex horror-thriller. It begins in 1986 when little Adelaide is with her parents at an evening outing at Santa Cruz, California’s legendary beach boardwalk. She wanders away from her distracted dad and heads for the beach. Adelaide ends up in a house of mirrors. There she meets herself.
Something seriously bad happens.
Many year later in the present day, and on vacation with her husband and children, Adelaide has another encounter with her doppelgänger. It’s there the mystery of the creature, and what happened decades ago unfolds. This time the doppelgänger is not alone. It has brought along facsimiles of her family. Wearing red jump suits and holding golden scissors, they go on the attack.
The why of the attack is part of the horror.
Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o — as she did in “12 Years a Slave” — shows considerable chops as the film’s deeply disturbed heroine and devilishly disturbing villain. Nyong’o glides up and down the emotional ladder with ease. In a heartbeat she can go from courage and calm to crying and hysteria and then back again.
Nyong’o is teamed with her “Black Panther” co-star Winston Duke. It is close to genius. She handles the super serious side of things and Duke’s dutiful husband Gabe is an anchor. He also provides the much-needed comic relief. When not playing the strong but sometimes-not-so-silent type, and battling the bad guys, Duke tosses off low-key one-liners that will have you howling.
It’s a fun piece of acting that gets a little humor department help from Elisabeth Moss (“The Handmaid’s Tale”) and Tim Heidecker (“Tim and Eric’s Bedtime Stories”). They play Adelaide and Gabe’s vacation neighborhood friends and neighbors, and have a few good lines themselves.
Unfortunately, there just isn’t enough humor. It would have helped. Humor is one of my “must-haves” when trying to sell a mostly unbelievable horror premise. When horror is fun, it not only opens a film to three-dimensions, but it makes a preposterous premise easier to accept.
Before making the movie, Peele had his cast watch 10 horror films. They included Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” and Michael Haneke’s terrifying “Funny Games” as well as “Let the Right One In,” “Dead Again” and “The Sixth Sense.” Peele — who is a very good director — takes themes from those movies, mixes them together and makes something semi-original.
The key word is “semi.”
Some of his story has the inventive feel of “Get Out.” The opening scenes are not only intense, but they are skin-crawling, and his movie has a perfect netherworldly look. The negative is a plot that plays out like the typical cookie cutter horror movie. “Us” starts slow, grinds to a middle act and then crawls to a climax.
The longer the sometimes hard to follow plot goes, the more convoluted it gets. That leads to my only acting complaint. Nyong’o’s doppelgänger is called Red. When Nyong’o is doing Red, she uses a deep, throaty croaking that is often difficult to understand.
What you do understand explains what happened to Adelaide eons ago. Much of that explanation — sad to say — is horror movie gobbledygook.
Worse, as the story marches toward Peele’s easily predicted unpredictable twist, what little tension it has is also predictable. Ultimately, and unfortunately, “Us” ends up closer to a common chase movie than something akin to original horror.
To use an unquestionably bad metaphor, “Us” plays like fast food. You come for a horror movie feast and are given plenty to eat. I can recommend Peele’s movie because it tastes good but what you end up digesting is mostly empty calories.
▪ Rated R for blood, gore, extreme violence and language. It’s playing at the Fairchild Cinemas Pasco and Fairchild Cinemas Queensgate, the AMC Classic Kennewick 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.
▪ Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5