'Us': How Brilliant Marketing Sold Jordan Peele's Not-So-Great Horror Movie

Moviegoers aren't loving 'Us', so why is it such a huge hit?

Let’s get this out of the way from the start. I didn’t love Us. In a world where Jordan Peele is being hailed as the new master of horror — equal parts Alfred Hitchcock and Wes Craven — that almost feels like blasphemy, but my reasoning is pretty simple. Us isn’t the movie we were promised. All that marketing was clearly enough to send fans of Get Out back to movie theaters last weekend in droves, but based on the initial audience response, I’m clearly not the only one.

So let’s break down a few numbers. Us defied box office expectations to earn $70 million in its opening weekend (nearly twice what the industry predicted), and its Rotten Tomatoes critics score is an impressive 94 percent. However, the movie’s audience score is a measly 71 percent, veering dangerously close to “Rotten” territory. CinemaScore (a market research company that surveys moviegoers on opening weekends) gave Us a B-rating, which translates to somewhere between “meh” and “bad,” according to the company’s rating system.

So what accounts for this disconnect between excitement over Us and the fan reaction after people actually saw it? It may all come down to the marketing, which brilliantly promoted the film as “a new nightmare from the mind of Academy Award winner Jordan Peele, writer/director of Get Out.” You see, Us wasn’t promoted as a must-see film; it was sold as the newest, hottest movie from an increasingly important director.

Another big issue with Us and its audience reception may stem from the fact that the trailer promised a very different movie than the one we actually got. Without veering into spoiler territory, early clips promised a horrific home invasion thriller, but as the actual movie plays out, it expands into science fiction territory to rationalize the doppelgängers that antagonize our heroes. To be fair, this seems to be Peele’s thing (Get Out takes a similar turn), but this time the twist feels less natural and never really lands. Prepping audiences for the movie’s final act with a more accurate trailer could have cushioned that blow.

'Us' trailer

The movie’s big twist is entertaining in a pulpy Black Mirror sort of way, but it’s also full of plot holes to the point where thinking about the ending causes the entire story to unravel. At one point near the end of Us, a woman sitting behind me in the theater turned to her friend and loudly said, “This is terrible.” It was hard for me to argue otherwise — even if Peele’s story still packs plenty of decent scares and some great comedic moments.

As for all of those glowing movie reviews, it can be tough to say why some movies resonate with critics but not fans (or vice versa). In some cases, it’s a cult classic that never clicks with the press, while in others, it’s just angry white dudes “review bombing” a movie for its diverse cast.

In this case, the answer seems clear: Movie critics really want Jordan Peele to succeed even if his most recent film is clearly flawed. Inverse’s own (mostly positive) review admitted that while Us is far from perfect, Peele still proves himself as a horror genius capable of expertly manipulating our emotions and spinning original stories out of thin air.

Some of the most critical audience reviews on Rotten Tomatoes show a similar sentiment. One moviegoer begins by writing, “First off, let me just say that Jordan Peele is genius. Like next level genius,” before concluding that Us is “far too slow and had major pacing problems.”

Another argued:

It’s unfortunate that this film to the naked eye, leaves the viewer with a bag full of symbolism left unanswered. The film was incredibly convoluted to anyone unwilling to further research its meaning after watching the movie. Huge fan of Jordan Peele, but this didn’t cut it for me.

There’s no denying that Jordan Peele is an exciting new force in the world of horror movies, and despite any issues you might have with Us, it’s difficult not to be excited for whatever might come next. But when that new movie does arrive, the marketing behind it may have to do more than simply point at Peele’s last movie and promise more of the same.

Us is in theaters now.