• Us (Universal Studios) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Universal Studios
    Released on: June 18th, 2019.
    Director: Jordan Peele
    Cast: Lupita Nyong'o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex
    Year: 2019
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    Us – Movie Review:

    When Jordan Peele’s Get Out became an unlikely box office hit in 2017, he had to be feeling the pressure not to jump the shark with his next effort. Thankfully, 2019’s Us proves the director is more than just a one trick pony.

    The plot, on the surface, is remarkably simple – but first, the opening scene. It’s 1986 and a young girl named Adelaide Wilson is at the beachside carnival in Santa Cruz with her parents. When she wanders off and into a hall of mirrors, she sees herself in one of the mirrors… only this reflection doesn’t move when she does. We later learn that she didn’t speak after this event for some time, and her parents and therapist encouraged her to communicate through drawing or through dance.

    Cut to the present day and Addy (Lupita Nyong'o) is speaking just fine. She’s married to her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and they have two kids together, teenaged Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and younger, awkward Jason (Evan Alex). They arrive at their newly purchased beach house for a family vacation. When Gabe insists that they go to the beach at Santa Cruz to meet up with his wealthy and obnoxious friend Josh Tyler (Tim Heidecker) and his wife Kitty (Elisabeth Moss), she protests but eventually relents. They go and it’s uneventful, until Jason wanders off. They find him, he’d just gone to use the bathroom, but he didn’t tell anyone and it gave Addy quite a scare. His wife visibly unsettled, Gabe decides to take the family back to their place. After putting the kids to bed, she looks out the window and sees four figures staring back at them from the end of the driveway. And that’s when things get weird.

    Us takes its time getting moving, and the buildup is longer than it probably needs to be but we like Addy and her family. Gabe is funny and charming in his own goofy sort of way. Jason is the quirky kid who it would probably suck to be related to but who is interesting as a movie character (he prefers to wear a wolfman mask, so he’s got that going for him) and Zora is a believably obnoxious teenager without ever overdoing it. Adelaide? Well, she’s just nice. She cares about her husband and her kids. It’s all very believable. The film does a good job of getting us invested in them through some effective humor and decent character development before then putting them through Hell.

    Some might figure out the twist in the ending before the movie gets there (I did) but that doesn’t make the trip any less entertaining. Yes, there are some logic gaps here if you think about them too much and the ending leaves a little more up in the air than it should but the second half of the film doesn’t lack in tension of suspense. The violence in the film hits hard (though this is one of those cases where slightly stronger gore may have given certain scenes more impact) and is well-played. Production values are very strong across the board. The score is great, the use of a few popular music selections also rather clever and, yes, amusing. The cinematography is fantastic, you really can’t fault the visuals here at all.

    Thematically the film is interesting. Without going too heavy into spoiler territory the picture can be read as an allegorical take on the divide between the rich and the poor in the United States – there are subtle and not so subtle bits in the film that posit this pretty clearly. It manages to do this while still feeling like a horror movie, it doesn’t come across as too heavy handed nor at the cost of entertainment value.

    A big part of what makes the movie work as well as it does, however, is the acting. Tim Heidecker (sporting some ridiculous fake tattoos) and Elisabeth Moss are perfect as the superficial rich friends. They’re asshole and they don’t even really try to hide it. At one point in the movie Gabe notes that Josh always has to outdo him and we don’t have any trouble believing that. Winston Duke is just plain likeable as Gabe. He’s goofy, but in a believable way. He’s also solid once the shit hits the fan – hardly an action hero, but surprisingly believable in his flaws. Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex are both very good as the Wilson’s kids. She’s athletic and a bit of a smart ass, wanting to drive because her friend was allowed to and usually glued to her phone – but not too irritating about it. He’s, as mentioned, a weird kid but in an endearing sort of way. All of these performers do just as good a job in both aspects of what is asked of them as far as their characters are concerned (again, trying to avoid spoilers here).

    Lupita Nyong'o, however, is the real star of the show. Here the woman who won an Oscar for 12 Years A Slave and who co-starred in Black Panther is given a really interesting role and she makes the most of it. When she’s frightened, so are we and when it comes time to defend her family and go on the offensive, we’re right there with her. As good as the rest of the cast members are, this movie belongs to her and her work in front of the camera does not disappoint.

    Us – Blu-ray Review:

    Universal Studios brings Us to Blu-ray in North America on a 50GB disc in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 2.39.1 widescreen and it looks excellent. Aside from some minor banding in a couple of spots, this is otherwise pretty much perfect. Shot digitally, there’s no print damage to discuss nor are there any anomalies with grain to note. Color reproduction is great and black levels are nice and deep. At the same time, there are no problems with crush, the darker scenes – of which there are many – look very good here. Skin tones are nice and natural and there’s excellent detail, depth and texture evident throughout the entirety of the film.

    English language audio options are provided in Dolby Atmos and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo while French and Spanish dubbed tracks are available in Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 as well. Subtitles come in English SDH, French and Spanish options. The lossless track on this disc is also excellent. There’s plenty of surround activity to take in throughout the movie, some quite discrete and some quite bombastic. Dialogue stays clean, clear and easy to follow, even the strained dialogue from Red, which is spoken in an intentionally strange sounding voice. The music really kicks in nicely too, and there’s great bass response throughout the film. No complaints here at all!

    Universal includes quite a few supplements here, though many of them are on the shorter side (and after enjoying Peele’s commentary for Get Out as much I did, well it was disappointing not to get one here) starting with The Monsters Within Us, a five-minute piece that basically just explains who the cast members are and elaborates a bit on their respective roles. You can probably skip this one.

    More interesting is Tethered Together: Making Us Twice, a seven-minute piece wherein we learn what went into having so many of the actors in the film having to play dual roles and how this was pulled off from a technical and logistical perspective. Redefining A Genre: Jordan Peele's Brand Of Horror might be a pretty lofty title but it does allow the director to talk for just over five-minutes about some of his influences and how and why he tries to work humor into his horror stories. This is worth watching. The Duality Of Us is the best of the featurettes. In this segment Jordan spends just short of ten-minutes going over some of the obvious and not so obvious themes that the picture explores. He also details some of the imagery that the picture make use of and why he chose to have the film look the certain way that it does. This is genuinely interesting and, again, makes you wish he’d delivered a proper commentary track.

    Becoming Red is a four-minute piece that examines Lupita Nyong’o’s two characters and how this could get tricky in spots. There are some interesting outtakes here that show she actually did her best to stay in character in between shots, which was probably not easy to do. The eight-minute Scene Explorations section contains brief looks at the making of three key scenes: Seven Second Massacre, It’s A Trap, I Just Want My Little Girl Back. We also get six deleted scenes that run just over six-minutes in total (I Am Not Even Near You, Rabbit Season, That’s Badass, Driftwood, The P Is Silent, I Wanna Go Home).

    We're All Dying contains just over six-minutes of outtakes featuring Duke and Heidecker. These are interesting enough to watch once and give us a look at their respective acting techniques. As Above, So Below: Grand Pas de Deux is an extended five-minute version of the dance scene that occurs towards the end of the movie.

    Menus and chapter selection are also included and previews for a few other Universal properties play before those menus load. Unfortunately, the trailer for the feature has not been included here.

    As this is a combo pack release, we also get a DVD version of the movie containing the same extras as are found on the Blu-ray. The two discs also come packaged with an insert containing a code for a digital HD download and a slipcover.

    Us – The Final Word:

    Us is very well-done. It’s unique, creative, politically relevant without feeling heavy-handed and more importantly, very entertaining. The film is tense, sometimes quite funny and it features some excellent performances. Universal has treated the film quite well on Blu-ray, giving it a beautiful presentation but shortchanging it just a bit in the extra features department. Otherwise, a very strong release for a very good film.

    Click on the images below for full sized Us Blu-ray screen caps!