The two most well-received horror films of the past two years were Get Out and Hereditary. These films share some common ground; particularly their intricate plotting, and emphasis on foreshadowing and reincorporation. But Hereditary is the less frightening, too wrapped up in its own style to deliver much-needed stabs of primal panic. It's also, beneath its overwrought pomposity, much less intelligent than Get Out.
Hereditary, for many, presented an opposition to cheap, tacky modern horror. It was not reliant on jump scares, and treated its story and characters with care and seriousness. But underneath the window dressing, it was as superficial a film as Paranormal Activity 3. In time, Hereditary will be recognised for what it is — just another demonic home invasion film, playing into a fad which has now defined horror for years.
Get Out managed to balance its prescient social commentary with goofy ghost-house thrills. It wore its influences on its sleeve, unashamed of its place in the horror canon. It made no attempt to disguise its homages, or intellectualise its horror sequences.
With Us, Jordan Peele reaffirms that pride as his greatest strength as a filmmaker. Like its predecessor, Us feels at ease in its own skin from the second it begins, and revels in cheap thrills. Its opening is sublime, walking a ten-minute green mile towards one single, spooky payoff. Tension continues to bubble for the first half of this film, before exploding into a real-time hour of relentless horror. Peele is a gifted director, making his incredibly constructed setpieces feel effortless.
Where Us will draw detractors, however, is in its story. The same crowd who lapped up Hereditary will be out in full force to pull at the thread of every plot hole. But Us is a much more sensual and impressionistic film than many modern horror fans will be used to. Hereditary was a materialistic ghost story, like It Follows a few years before — a film in which someone hits a ghost with a chair. Spirits must receive bodies, be rationalised, fought off. Here, the soul is split between two bodies, two planes. And Us devotes a good deal of time questioning where that leaves it.
Us has the metaphysical nightmare logic of something like The Shining. Enough is explained to avoid viewers feeling adrift. But a disjunction occupies the film. Like the (near) identical twins of Kubrick's masterpiece, we're seeing two pictures which don't quite match. Given a moment's thought, the plot of Us completely collapses. Peele's film compensates by not giving you that moment. Not all viewers will be willing to go where Us wants to take them — but it’s a wild ride.
True — things do somewhat fall apart in the film's final act. It seems to have less to say than Get Out. It's looser, messier and much more strange. But its barrage of memorable images, its stunning score, its offbeat humour, and beautiful performances carry Us through.
Words by Andrew O’Keefe