“Us” (2019) passes the litmus test for a good horror movie — it is genuinely scary, thanks largely to Jordan Peele’s terrific directing and its cast’s immense talents. Lupita Nyong’o shines the most here; she gives a tour-de-force performance in the dual role of both a terrified woman and her savage, homicidal doppleganger. (If you’ve seen the trailer for “Us,” you know it portrays a nuclear family of four being assailed by their mysterious, murderous lookalikes.) Shahadi Wright Joseph is also especially good, in the dual role as both the family’s traumatized daughter and her cherubic-yet-stabbity twin. This is a creative horror film with excellent shooting and imagery, and I’d rate it an 8 out of 10.
I don’t know that everyone will enjoy the film as I did, as I don’t think it is perfect. Its overlong third act is easily its weakest, when the traditional cat-and-mouse horror-movie antics eventually take a back seat to the film’s key reveals. We do get an explanation for the clone-tastic shenanigans in “Us,” even if it isn’t altogether satisfying. There is actually an extensive fantasy/sci-fi backstory that Peele has prepared, and which I will not spoil here.
But I do think that many viewers would enjoy the story more without it, as I think I would have. The movie’s key reveals are implausible and slightly befuddling at first, and then grow preposterous in the viewer’s mind the more that he or she thinks about them. They’re presented a bit ploddingly, too, in a film that feels maybe 20 minutes too long. As good as it was, “Us” would have been a more entertaining film if it had left the genesis of its strange events a mystery. If it had been presented as a simple, violent parable about the id, for example, it would appeal to a far wider audience and might approach the status of a horror classic, as Peele’s outstanding “Get Out” did in 2017.
But that isn’t what Peele wanted. The friend with whom I watched “Us” last night sent me a great March 22 article by Aja Romano at Vox that admirably breaks down the movie’s ending. Peele indeed had a more detailed and thoughtful message than a general statement about mankind’s duality. Long story short — the movie’s mythology might not make a lot of practical sense, but it makes a lot of sense thematically. There is some intelligent social messaging here, even if it isn’t perfectly delivered. It helps if you think of “Us” as a surreal horror story instead of a realistic one. I found that I liked the ending much more after reading this, and you might too.
One more note — this is the first time I’ve seen Elizabeth Moss on screen. (She’s in a surprisingly hilarious supporting role here; I think most readers of this blog will recognize her as the protagonist of Hulu’s adaptation of “The Handmaid’s Tale.”) She’s got great comic timing, and she’s absolutely magnetic. People keep telling me that I should watch “The Handmaid’s Tale;” maybe I really am overdue for that.
The first two “Jeepers Creepers” movies are vastly underrated classics, in my opinion — they’re well scripted and boast a truly original and frightening bogeyman. The third, regrettably, struggles to retain even a B movie charm. It’s a substandard horror film that I’d only grudgingly rate a 4 out of 10.
“Jeepers Creepers 3” (2017) is cloddishly written and awkwardly filmed. The film also suffers from action sequences that are absolutely cartoonish. A lot of this stems from the titular Creeper’s antique vehicle, which is now inexplicably depicted as being … conscious? Possessed by the Creeper? It drives itself, deflects bullets, launches projectiles, and contains booby traps that defy physics. This leads to some Wile E. Coyote-style fight scenes with the story’s various protagonists, in which the saddest victim is the franchise’s credibility.
About those protagonists — there are far too many to examine with any real success; the two ostensible teenage main characters fall a bit flat. There are so many characters that have backstories connected with the Creeper (and his signature, decades-hopping supernatural murder sprees) that the film simply becomes confusing. And that confusion is made worse by this film’s chronology with the previous movies — it takes place immediately after the first, but before the events of the second. (In all fairness, maybe the problem is me … I am being quite honest when I write here that I just do not follow movies as well as other people.)
With all of this exposition, though, one bit of lore is egregiously omitted – contrary to some of the movie’s advance press, we learn nothing about the creature’s origins. And this is extremely odd, because a bunch of characters do. There is a befuddling central plot point where the good guys methodically gain knowledge of their otherworldly foe by … touching one of its severed body parts. But we, the viewers, learn nothing.
Even the makeup and special effects were inferior to the prior films.
I’m confused by all of the things I’ve written above, as “Jeepers Creepers 3” was written and directed by Victor Salva, who wrote and directed the excellent previous movies in 2001 and 2003.
I hope I’m not being too hard on the movie, because there’s still some fun to be had. Jonathan Breck still chews the scenery quite nicely as the Creeper, and the monster’s character concept still manages to please. In a horror movie market often dominated by seemingly interchangeable serial killers and undead little girls, the Creeper is a truly inventive monster — part human; part gargoyle; part body-stealing, feral Frankenstein’s monster. He’s fun to watch, particularly for horror fans who’ve grown tired of the Patrick Batemans and the various angry ghost children that endlessly haunt the zeitgeist. You could do a lot worse for a plot-driving antagonist.
And, thanks to so brutal a bad guy, there are occasional moments of tension in the movie. It’s a bit scary, for example, when he attacks a group of teenaged motorcyclists.
This isn’t enough to make recommend paying for the movie, however — even if you’re a fan of the franchise, as I am. I’d wait for “Jeepers Creepers 3” to hit Netflix or Hulu, or wait until it’s playing on SyFy again.