'Us': What the Critics are Saying

While the film has been received positively, critics are struggling to extract the many layers of meaning the film suggests, especially in its third act.
Claudette Barius/Universal Pictures
While the film has been received positively, critics are struggling to extract the many layers of meaning the film suggests, especially in its third act.

Reviews are in for Jordan Peele's horror thriller Us, and the critics are generally positive about the director's follow-up to Get Out, with a few caveats.

The film, written and directed by Peele, follows a family who encounter a group of doppelgangers during a beach house getaway. Lupita Nyong'o and Winston Duke star opposite Elisabeth Moss, Anna Diop and Tim Heidecker.

Jason Blum, who produced Peele's Oscar-winning directorial debut Get Out,  returns for a second collaboration. 

For The Hollywood Reporter, John DeFore declares the film "a fiercely scary movie whose meaning is up for grabs." Elaborating, he points out that fans may seek sociopolitical meaning through a fantastical premise that "isn't nearly as easy to read allegorically as that of his shockingly good debut Get Out." DeFore argues that Us "makes the obvious point that, whether we're black or white, it's people who look just like us who have made our world a disaster we cannot escape." The critic goes on to say, "Maybe we're doing the same, both of us creating a living hell for someone, likely without even knowing it. Maybe we're Them and they're Us."

Eric Kohn of Indiewire says Us proves that Peele’s Get Out's surprising box office success "wasn’t a fluke." He also insists that the film can be very satisfying and give "audiences exactly what they want by delivering what they least expect." Kohn describes Peele’s film as one that offers a "satisfying dose of relentless, anxiety-inducing survival antics designed to keep viewers perpetually uneasy" and also as something that "moves so quickly that they can only consider the deeper undercurrents after the credits roll." The film, Kohn argues, can be described as Funny Games combining forces with "Cronenbergian body horror and Hitchockian suspense." 

He also applauds Peele for his "indelible imagery" rather than relying on the "obvious jump scares." Despite the film offering its fair share of frightening moments, Kohn reiterates that that doesn’t mean Us isn't "big on nuance in its quest to horrify and entertain at once," but rather Peele allows the audience to "figure out how it adds up." He also hints that audiences should remember that "sometimes the scariest truths are hiding in plain sight."

Eric Vespe of Collider is aware that Get Out can be considered Us's "successful older brother," but he assures that Peele's new venture is a "different kind of film." "There are similarities, but it’s by no means the same experience and I honestly can’t predict how the masses will respond to it," he writes, also arguing that the film embraces more of The Twilight Zone rather than Get Out

According to Vespe, Peele's new film is proof that "he’s as sharp as ever when it comes to throwing in some subtext under his fun horror movie." Another celebratory moment from the film? The cast performances. Vespe applauds Peele for having a "talent for crafting complex, intriguing characters" in Nyong'o, Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex. In particular, Vespe says Nyong'o "knocks this out of the park" and her work is the "most central and important performance in film." "And she nails it," he says. 

Vulture's Emily Yoshida also draws comparisons between Get Out and Us, suggesting that the former had a clearer message than the latter. "It’s a messier film than Get Out, in that it never quite gets around to saying the things it’s trying to say," Yoshida writes. "This is not entirely a bad thing; its messiness allows the film to spend more time working up inventive scares than conveying an all-caps, complete-sentence message." Still, she adds, the premise is intriguing enough that the light excavation of the material leaves something to be desired.

Yoshida nevertheless sings the praises of Nyong'o's double performance, writing, "Nyong’o’s 'Red,' as she’s credited, is an achievement on another level; a physical, vocal, and emotional performance so surgical in its uncanniness that it almost feels like it could not be the work of a flesh-and-blood human. It’s an astounding performance, as is her performance as Adelaide, and as the two face off and the nature of their bond becomes clearer, the latter deepens and curdles into something more terrifying."

At The Verge, Tasha Robinson argues that Us is a more "conventional modern horror" than Peele's previous film. "It follows a familiar storytelling pattern... The lead up sometimes feels frustratingly slow and repetitive, especially when the audience isn’t really learning anything new about the characters, apart from the fact that Gabe is oblivious to Adelaide’s past trauma, and that Zora and Jacob don’t particularly get along. And the transition into real horror is so abrupt, it’s almost comical — until it isn’t," she writes. While the doppelganger premise is familiar from previous horror movies, however, she adds that the film gets weirder as it goes along.

Ultimately the greatest strength of Us is the cast's depiction of their doubles, she adds. While Peele "directs Us with a masterful collection of horror-movie tricks," Robinson writes, ultimately, "his greatest asset is the performances, which turn an already creepy premise into something endlessly inhuman and unnerving."

In The Daily Beast, Kevin Fallon writes that while Us sees Peele again commenting on American society via a horror movie, he "doesn’t quite stick the landing this time." Fallon expresses some regret for this prognosis "because the experience of watching the film is such an enjoyable one. It’s a popcorn blockbuster of the highest pedigree; a crowd-pleaser with enough craft and care to be ruled art-house if it wasn’t obviously going to be such a big hit."

Fallon praises Peele's evolution as a filmmaker, saying that many shots could contend for inclusion as a #OnePerfectShot, and laments that "long-winded explanations" of the film's greater meaning arrive in the second act. "There will be plenty of thinking and dissecting of Us, and it deserves it. But it’s interesting that it succeeds so well as a great thriller on its own, divorced from any of the 'importance' that will be assigned to it," Fallon writes.

The A.V. Club's Randall Colburn agreed with others in his conclusion that the ideas the film introduces fascinate, but never end up cohering into a clear message. "Like many sophomore efforts, it’s ambitious and unwieldy, leaping furiously from one idea to the next without adequately exploring any of them," he writes. On a technical level, Colburn find's Peele's filmmaking "balletic," writing, "Us scores its most effective scares not from a stab or a shriek, but from the near-imperceptible, the nightmare lurking in the shadows."

Despite the film's virtues as a horror film, ultimately Fallon was disappointed with its attempt to derive greater meaning from the scares. Us' "third act collapses during a fit of exposition that raises more questions than it answers, and its lingering twist lands with a palpable thud, failing to resonate due to a central metaphor that’s a touch too translucent," Fallon writes.

Us releases into theaters on March 22.

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