Us held together by Nyong'o's stellar outing

Lupita Nyong'o plays Adelaide Wilson in Us.
Lupita Nyong'o plays Adelaide Wilson in Us.PHOTO: UIP

REVIEW / HORROR THRILLER

US (NC16)

117 minutes/Opens today/3.5 stars

The story: When Adelaide (Lupita Nyong'o) was a girl, she was witness to a horrifying incident near the beach. It has traumatised her since. Now a mother of two, she and husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and their children take a vacation in a home near the same beach. Adelaide's nightmares return, but this time, the bad memories have taken a horrifying physical shape.


This sprawling movie has it all: body snatching, attacks by mindless hordes and a massive government conspiracy - all wrapped in a story that dribbles out explanation in flashback. It is a clattering mass of moving parts that, miraculously, does not fall apart midway.

And in there is a middle-class black family on vacation, trying to fit into a world filled with Things White People Like, such as boating and binge-drinking while on vacation.

This reviewer is still trying to make sense of what it is all about, and most viewers coming out of the theatre will have arguments for days afterwards.

Welcome to the imagination of comedian and film-maker Jordan Peele. After the success of the Oscar-winning Get Out (2017), a horror movie based on the idea of black bodies used as disposable containers for white minds, Peele's follow-up is more about class than race, asking this guilt-trip question: What if the people who clean up the mess - migrant labourers, domestic workers, the faceless and nameless who toil unseen and unrewarded - rose up to reclaim their humanity?

The Oscar for Get Out was given for Best Original Screenplay and, here, Peele once more shows that he is a better writer than director. This work spills over with themes and symbols, just not coherently arranged, nor presented in a visually stylish way.

 
 

Scale is what separates this film from his last work. Here, there are prolonged fight scenes, car and boat wrecks, and flashbacks to carnival crowds in the 1980s.

The plot twists require frequent flashbacks, which add bloat. There is a prologue showing an incident in Adelaide's childhood, for example, that could have been easily excised. But without it, there would be no scares till near the film's midway point.

Nyong'o's big, bold performance makes up for the story's structural flaws. As the protective mum, she is thrilling to watch, but as her anguished alter-ego, she is a force of nature.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2019, with the headline 'Us held together by Nyong'o's stellar outing'. Print Edition | Subscribe