They say lightning doesn’t strike twice, but sometimes it does with hit movies.
Ridley Scott followed up his superb The Duellists – which won best first feature at the 1977 Cannes Film Festival – with seminal sci-fi hit Alien two years later, scoring a special effects Oscar for its chest-bursting menace.
Quentin Tarantino topped Reservoir Dogs with Pulp Fiction.
So I was pumped for Jordan Peele’s much-hyped sophomore feature Us about a family menaced by stab-happy doppelgangers, after his exhilarating, Oscar-winning debut Get Out smartly rewired the horror genre, lancing rampant racism and creeping white privilege.
Sadly his flash of brilliance totally fizzles this time.
A genuinely unnerving set up in a 1986 fairground totally gets the creak of terror lurking in these places, with a wide-eyed Madison Curry as a young girl attacked by her evil double after being lost in a funhouse mirror hall.
Positing another clever metaphor, with Americans as their own worst enemy, Peele soon loses focus.
Jumping to the present, a goofy but overlong section sets up Black Panther duo Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke as a married couple taking a break in their wood-surrounded holiday cabin (never a good idea in horror films) with their kids, played by Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex.
Taking too long to get there, Peele flubs an oddly inert home invasion when the family’s maniacal scissor-wielding mirror images eventually show up. Basic jump scares abound, but there’s no real terror.
We do get a much more brutal attack on the neighbours, including The Handmaid’s Tale’s Elisabeth Moss, but a re-run is a re-run.
The film’s laborious pace is further hampered by Nyong’o’s bad reflection setting out their terms in the worst asthmatic wheezing committed to film since Tom Hardy’s much-memed Bane.
Peele manages to bury the film in a turgid cement of tedious exposition while still leaving the basic world-building foundations decidedly wobbly.
Get Out already joked about villains monologuing their dastardly plan. Pushing the same punchline here is just lazy.
The patchy humour fares a bit better as the ‘good’ family gets increasingly violent in their fight back, but it’s so on the nose it literally references Home Alone. Yeah, we got it.
Pop culture call-outs galore, including an iconic line ripped from the Star Wars saga, only serve to highlight the dearth of new ideas here.
With Peele borrowing liberally from better films like The Shining, it ends up feeling like a tired rehash.
Speaking of which, I’m not going to die and be resurrected on a hill claiming the probably unnecessary Pet Sematary reboot is a masterpiece, but it at least has more fun re-animating Stephen King’s zombie cat story with a zippier pace.
Directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, the movie doesn’t give Jason Clarke quite enough space to really work the crazed grief of a father tortured by a devastating accident, but there’s just enough here to hurt.
Tinkering with the tragic 1983 novel and the 1989 movie adaptation, it delivers a couple of surprises more welcome than un-dead family members at the door.
Pet Sematary is out now, and Us is in cinemas from April 4.