After hitting the big-time with Get Out Jordan Peele returns with his highly anticipated Us which he has written, produced and directed. Early reviews have been very positive however, I’ve avoided reading much of anything about the film as I invariably get disappointed overindulging in advance. All I was aware of was the rather intriguing basic premise: a family are stalked by a group of doppelgängers. That hook was enough to entice me to the cinema.
I was not a big fan of Get Out which was entertaining but ultimately overrated, and I have much the same opinion on Us. It was very watchable, but let’s not get carried away and trump-up a flick that has plenty of flash, but in other places had me scratching my head, particularly in the very long final twenty minutes where I drifted off somewhat. One of the things I really loved about It Follows was the fact it reveals absolutely nothing about the supernatural entity, Us does the complete opposite and bombards the viewer with a really boring information dump, before winding-up with a twist I saw coming.
The prologue takes us back to 1986 where a young girl is separated from her parents in a seaside fair and wanders into a house of mirrors where she sees a little girl who looks almost exactly like her. So, the doppelgänger concept is revealed before the opening credits begin, flashforward to the present day the little girl is now married, has two kids of her own and is heading to their holiday home which is on the side of a remote bay. We quickly realise this is in the close vicinity of the childhood seaside incident which she still has issues over in recurring dreams. The film only has a few other characters and is mainly set over one single night, much of which is very familiar territory to any home invasion movie, except for the doppelgänger angle. The scene when the twin family make their debut appearance was terrific, the son spots their shadows first “there is a family standing on our lawn” he says before things kick off. It was reminiscent of the famous pose of Alex and his ‘droogs’ standing in the tunnel in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, as were the boiler suits the doppelgängers wore. Lupita Nyong'o was a stunning leading lady, bringing high intensity to the role, particularly when her kids are threatened, and in acting two very contrasting roles.
The middle-class family dynamics is nicely drawn and the acting is excellent, both children in particular were superb, and their doppelgänger counterparts were suitably different, but still almost identical, to add a certain level of creepiness. It was both very stylish and visual with powerful use of music, and because of this I felt it lacked old fashioned scares and the highest levels of threat came when the kids were being stalked by their doppelgänger counterparts. However, the tough teenager daughter was not to be messed with and the audience will be rooting for her in no time. There were a few jumpy moments and a couple of kill scenes which happen abruptly, but apart from that I would not call it a white-knuckle ride.
I recall Get Out getting more outlandish as it went along and in some ways Us follows a similar pattern, however, this film does have a clever plot shift in the final third, which goes ultimately unexplored and was a tad frustrating. There is a scene in Romero’s Night of the Living Dead where the besieged characters watch TV to see about the attacks in the outside world, it’s a bit like that, it might even be deliberately referencing it? I’m sure there will be lots of experts out there trying to decode the inner-meaning of some of the film and the symbolism used but I would not bother looking for deep social sub-contexts. Long term horror fans will pick up on the odd sly reference to other films such as C.H.U.D. which sits on a video shelf in the prologue story and has some foreshadowing on what is to come. Something about the way the doppelgängers communicated reminded me of the very final scene featuring Donald Sutherland in the late 1970s version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, again I don’t know if that was intentional or not.
Jordan Peele seems to have become one of those directors who has risen above criticism, he’s directed two imaginative films, but neither have been complete successes. There are lots of things that do not make sense in Us, but as I want to limit spoilers you can find them for yourself. I will be interested in seeing what he does with the new episodes of The Twilight Zone, however, I do not see the point in remaking Candyman, another project he is currently involved it, I’m sure many in the horror community agree that it’s a pointless exercise.
High concept horror-films have their fans, and often reach a wider market with their style over substance approach, I recall shaking my head at the plaudits The Cabin in the Woods received and feel the same about Us. It’s a decent film, but if it had appeared in a streaming service I’m not sure I would have got too excited about it or pegged it as anything out of the ordinary.
Hot on the heels of Lee Cronin’s much-anticipated The Hole In The Ground comes 2019’s latest ‘creepy kid’ flick, The Prodigy.
Sadly not the tale of the late great Keith Flint’s band, it is instead the story of proud parents Sarah (Taylor Schilling) and John (Peter Mooney) who start to suspect that their precociously bright little cherub Miles (It’s Jackson Robert Scott) might not be quite so angelic after all.
Could it have something to do with the random deranged serial killer we see meet a sticky end during Miles’ birth? Why yes, yes it could.
I’m sure plenty of eyes will have rolled during that synopsis and, in truth, there’s very little in the way of surprises in terms of plot in The Prodigy. It has a throwback horror-thriller hybrid feel along the lines of What Lies Beneath, Hide And Seek, and Cape Fear. And just like those movies, if you’re in the right mood, there’s still plenty of fun to be had here.
The cast is great, especially Schilling and young Scott, and there’s some fine support from Colm Feore as a hippy doctor with a very open mind when it comes to the paranormal, and Paul Fauteux as the aforementioned creepy serial killer. Yes, there are some clunky moments of dialogue, but this is a very talented group of actors and they do a pretty good job with what they have to work with.
Director Nicholas McCarthy also impresses, making sure the film looks fantastic and delivering some very good scares along the way. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that The Prodigy contains the most exquisitely crafted jump scare I’ve seen since the first crawler reveal in The Descent.
As a piece of entertainment, The Prodigy can’t really be faulted (well, except for the fact that it could clearly finish a good five minutes before it finally does), but it simply doesn’t do enough to get close to classic status.
If you only have the time or inclination for one scary-child-driven film, The Hole In The Ground is clearly the winner. But if you fancy a fun evening at the cinema with some cool moments and memorable scares, you could do far, far worse than checking out The Prodigy.
The Prodigy is in cinemas from 15th March by Vertigo Releasing.
ONE CUT OF THE DEAD (KAMERA O TOMERU NA!)