Release Date(s)2019 (June 18, 2019)
Studio(s)Monkeypaw Productions/Universal Pictures (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: C
After impressing audiences with his horror debut Get Out, which was not only a genre refresher but also dealt with racism in a darkly funny but easily absorbable package, all eyes were fixed upon Jordan Peele’s next move as a filmmaker. Would he fall prey to the sophomore curse or rise to the occasion with another entertaining piece of material? The answer came in March of 2019 with Us, one of the most discussed horror films of recent memory.
The film opens in the 1980s as the Hands Across America campaign, a movement to bring people of all backgrounds together to help put an end to hunger, is taking place. Late one evening, a young girl named Adelaide wanders away from her parents at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk amusement park, is eventually drawn into a hall of mirrors, and is horrified by what she finds there. Years later, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) grows up to be a mother of two young children, Zora and Jason (Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex), as well as a loving wife to her supportive husband Gabe (Winston Duke). The four take a vacation together at a lake house in Santa Cruz, despite Adelaide’s misgivings about going back after what happened to her there as a child.
In the middle of the night, a group of four unknown people appear outside their house in red jumpsuits, unwilling to communicate or listen to reason. Despite Gabe’s attempt to make them go away, they descend upon the house, holding the family hostage in the living room. To their shock, the intruders look exactly like them. The leader, Red, the doppelgänger of Adelaide, explains that they are called the Tethered and have surfaced to destroy their above ground counterparts. Fighting to escape certain death, Adelaide and her family learn that not only are their doppelgängers more instinctual and self-driven than they are, but that their own encounter with them is only the tip of the iceberg.
Once again, Jordan Peele taps into something primordial in Us. It’s not a complex film, but more of one that, once the curtain is pulled back, you begin to notice minor details you didn’t pick up on before, making repeat watches valuable. The film explores the notion of identity, but also, when put to the test, whether one can rise above their situation and be as good or better than the ideal version of themselves. Granted, the Tethered are not the ideal versions of these people, but they are better in certain ways. For instance, Zora’s character participates in track at school, something she expresses a general boredom with early on. Meanwhile, her other self is not only a fast runner, but can outrun Zora when given the opportunity, which forces Zora to, in a sense, become more like her in order to survive.
The most-talked aspect of the film is its ending. If one pays close attention, the groundwork is laid for it at multiple points, making it a more natural conclusion than typical “twist” endings which often feel forced. A scene towards the end, wherein Red explains to Adelaide the entire backstory of the Tethered, is a bit problematic. Exposition was going to be a necessity at some point, but there’s a little too much here, it’s not presented in a terribly interesting way, and it steals too much narrative drive and tension from the moment.
Still, the response to Us was almost unanimous upon its release, with one critic even referring to it as “the best horror film ever made.” Ultimately, only time will tell what kind of impact Us will have on its viewers. With its multiple layers of ideas, as well as Easter eggs that coincide with those layers, the film is a stunning piece of work and a rollercoaster ride in the theater if you were lucky enough to see it with a good audience.
Us was shot digitally in the ARRIRAW codec (at 3.4K) using Arri Alexa cameras with Zeiss Master Prime lenses. It was finished as a native 2K Digital Intermediate, was upsampled for this Ultra HD release, and was graded for high dynamic range in HDR10 (as well as Dolby Vision). It’s presented here in the proper 2.39:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The image offers very good (though not terribly refined) detail and texturing—not as much as a native 4K image would provide, but it’s a modest improvement on the Blu-ray. This improvement is particularly appreciated in dark scenes, as this is a moody, brooding film where much takes place in the shadows. Even in daylight moments, the tone feels dark. HDR enhances the contrast well, with the darkest areas of the image inky black, while highlights are bold but shy of eye-reactive. The overall color palette is warm and earthy, and the wider color gamut renders more subtle shadings of skin, clothing, and vegetation. The colors are even richer in select scenes, an example being Adelaide’s escalator descent later in the film. Dolby Vision improves on this just a bit more, with 12-bit color lending the image an added measure of nuance and depth. Lighting in the film tends to be from natural sources. The only visual flaws are by design, including the use of analog TV and cell phone footage, as well as the softness of a split diopter shot.
The audio selection includes English Dolby Atmos, as well as Spanish and French 7.1 Dolby Plus, with subtitle options in English SDH, Spanish, and French. The Atmos track is a solid surround experience, though one that tends to be more low key at times, taking full advantage of ambience and low frequency activity over explosiveness. Sound effects present a range of well-mixed and effective moments, from the subtle pitter-patter of scurrying small animals to the brutal impact of golf clubs and baseball bats, and even blood splatter. The score, though lacking in percussion, offers an abundance of depth, almost exclusively using strings to great effect. Dialogue is clear and well-placed, including the clicking sounds of the Tethered, as well as low breaths and guttural utterances. The height channels are mostly used to extend the soundfield vertically and add a bit more immersion. This is a highly enveloping soundtrack that doesn’t become overtly volatile, but prioritizes its assortment of elements with crisp precision.
Both the 4K and Blu-ray discs included in this release contain the following special features, all in HD:
- The Monsters Within Us (4:45)
- Tethered Together: Making Us Twice (7:28)
- Redefining a Genre: Jordan Peele’s Brand of Horror (5:31)
- The Duality of Us (9:56)
- Becoming Red (4:09)
- Scene Explorations (3 clips – 7:36 in all)
- Deleted Scenes (6 scenes – 6:28 in all)
- We’re All Dying (6:22)
- As Above, So Below: Grand Pas de Deux (5:02)
All of this material will play automatically after the film ends. Unfortunately, despite the look of a package that includes a copious amount of extras, they’re more fluff than educational. The featurettes, particularly Tethered Together and The Duality of Us, go into slightly more detail than the others, highlighting the challenges of shooting the film, including the approach of shooting as if there were two different actors playing two different characters. The Deleted Scenes are also fairly inconsequential, including raw takes of the beach scene between Gabe and Josh. The most interesting extras are the Becoming Red and As Above, So Below segments. While the former utilizes footage in between takes of Lupita Nyong’o in character as Red, which is creepy in its own right, the latter is an uncut version of the ballet performance seen towards the end of the film. The rest gives minor background on the motivations of the actors and the director, but it doesn’t really go into enough depth to be enlightening. Sorely missing is an audio commentary or a long-form documentary on the making of the film. A paper insert with a Movies Anywhere Digital Copy code is included in the packaging.
While the 4K disc of Us offers a satisfactory A/V presentation, the extras don’t live up to expectations. The film is entertaining, and certainly worthy of a more expanded release, but this will have to suffice for now.
- Tim Salmons