I’ll start by saying Keye and Peele is one of my favorite TV shows. The writing is top notch on both a superficial and a meta level. It deals with a lot race and other difficult subjects in subtle and hilarious ways. And then you add to that the fact that Peele’s first movie, Get Out, won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and I thought Us would be another winner.
*SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW* (I’ll warn again about the ending spoiler)
It started out with a family-drama vibe and there were actually some really funny interactions between the family. But since we know it’s a horror movie, we start to wonder when darker things are going to happen. And then, suddenly, they do.
The *moment* Adelaide confesses to the eerie feeling that her doppleganger is going to find her, the doppelganger family shows up outside the house.
So after a loooong, pretty standard introduction, the action finally starts. The problem, however, is that the pacing is off. We aren’t given information at the right time, while the action takes place in fits and starts. We’re introduced to these weird look-alikes but given no real explanation as to what they are, where they came from, or what they want. Instead of inducing dread or even a desire to find answers, everything gets muddled as the creatures and story try to be creepy and fall short.
I liked the idea of the dopplegangers, even if it wasn’t given a full explanation. Basically, there was a government program that figured out how to copy bodies, the problem being that each copy possessed only one soul between the two. So you’ve got the surface people (us) and the underground people (them). The surface people are blessed with normal lives while the underground people are puppets forced to dance whatever steps their counterparts enact above.
Until, that is, Adelaide’s doppelganger is somehow able to meet Adelaide (when they’re children), and switch places with her. From then on (pretty much…it gets confusing), Adelaide is determined to get back to the surface. She somehow (plot hole) organizes the other doppelgangers to break the tethers holding them underground.
From a writer’s perspective, the plot was a bit hackneyed and didactic. The doppelgangers are obvious metaphors, a fact grossly and unnecessarily reinforced when the Underground Adelaide answers the question of who they are with “We are Americans.” Blahhhhh.
The same could be said for the Hands Across America theme. Beat us over the head, why don’t you, Peele.
The little girl doppleganger was fun and creepy, while the little boy was cliched. He wore a mask to cover a burned face, he was a pyro, and he growled like a dog while traveling on all fours for some reason. The Adelaide’s doppelganger was the only one who could speak, but just like Batman’s deep voice, her scratchy, unused voice was more distracting than threatening.
*ENDING SPOILER FOLLOWS*
I saw the ending coming, mostly because it was so blatantly obvious after the first time Adelaide kills one of the doppelgangers (a friend’s teenage daughter).
Adelaide is the doppelganger, while her doppelganger is the original Adelaide.
All that having been said, I did like a couple things about Us. I thought it was creepy and messed up that Adelaide’s doppelganger knew exactly what she was condemning the real Adelaide to when she kidnapped her and left her behind underground. It that way, Peele plays with our expectations about who the real monsters are. Is it the doppelganger who so fiercely protects her family on the surface, or the one who comes to take her revenge and thus save a whole race of disenfranchised humans? Both women wind up justified in their actions–something every author should strive for.
If Peele had taken all these ideas and combined them in a different way — perhaps with less emphasis on the message and more on the horror of facing your own self — it might have been worth seeing. As it is, I’d leave it on the shelf.