It's Up To You! Be Scared by "Us," or at the Edge of Your Seat for "Free Solo".

us-free-soloBarb and I saw two movies this weekend, one in the recliners at the local Cineplex, and the other in the comfort of home, pooch at our feet. One scared me to death. It is not the one you would expect.

The critics love “Us.” Director Jordan Peele’s 2nd horror film is a sensation. The New York Times says “more unsettling” than “Get Out.” “Compulsory seeing,” according to the Wall Street Journal. And crowds have been responding, with the film taking in over $70 million this weekend, a true box-office bonanza. Not even “Captain Marvel” can match it.

The reviews  will tell you about the symbolism, and the social commentary, and the references to classic horror films in “Us.” But do most viewers care much about all that? They will see the movie to get a fright, to see how a very much “off”  doppelgänger family terrorizes the Wilsons, a middle-class family enjoying a vacay at the shore. Yes, there are some jumps and thrills, but nothing that I can’t see every Sunday night on “The Walking Dead.” I didn’t come close to leaping out of my seat. A closing shot, one that makes you rethink the entire movie adds a final jolt, but it just not enough.

On the other hand, I was sitting at the edge of my comfy chair while watching “Free Solo,” the recent Best Documentary Oscar winner. Have you ever been to Yosemite National Park? Do you remember El Capitan, the rock formation with the sheer wall that rises 3000 feet from Yosemite Valley? It’s a popular site for rock climbers. “Free Solo” documents climber Alex Honnold and his desire, bordering on obsession, for a free solo ascent to the summit. You know what free solo means, right? It’s rock climbing without a rope, without any tools, without any assistance. It means one false step can take you off the wall into a freefall with certain death. Watching it on the screen is what terror is all about.

We learn of Alex’s top-notch climbing record. He tells us his earnings from climbing are comparable to that of a “moderately successful dentist.” He says his late father had “what we would now call Asperger syndrome,” and following Alex through his years of single-minded determination, his relationship with his one and only girlfriend, and his casual reaction to the death of some of his climbing colleagues suggests Alex is also on the autistic spectrum. Perhaps this is what enables him to strive for his dream.

The photography in “Free Solo” is incredible, handled by a team of professional climber/photographers. The amazing visuals allow the audience to experience each step Alex takes, through his planning runs using ropes, to the free solo attempt he halted in the fall of 2016, to the final SPOILER ALERT successful climb in 2017.

The suspense of the 6-hour ascent, when any misstep could be fatal, is heart pounding. During certain moments in the climb, the base photographer is so frightened for Alex’s safety he turns away from his camera in terror. Still, the camera work is unforgettable, and the triumph at the summit exhilarating.

So make your choice. You can get your thrills watching what everyone else is watching on the big screen, or get it at home streaming on National Geographic. And remember, just one of these stories is real.

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