Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes
Director and writer: Jordan Peele
Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahad Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker
Jordan Peele, comedy star of the show Key & Peele and the movie Keanu, wowed audiences with his 2017 directorial debut, Get Out. The Twilight Zone– esque tale of a black man who visits his white girlfriend’s parents, only to find some bizarre circumstances, touched audiences with its creepy vibe mixed with the socio-political commentary on racism in America. Now Peele has followed up that film with yet another horror thriller entitled Us. Has he struck gold for his sophomore effort?
The answer to that is a big yes. Us is another scary, suspenseful movie, tinged with humor and in some ways better than his debut. Instead of social and political commentary, this horror film takes on more philosophical type fare, and leaves plenty to interpretation. It also makes writing a spoiler free review a bit harder, but I will do my best.
The movie focuses on the Wilson family: mom Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), dad Gabe (Winston Duke), daughter Zora (Shahad Wright Joseph), and son Jason (Evan Alex). They take a vacation to Santa Cruz, where as a child Adelaide had experienced a traumatic incident. One night, a family dressed in red uniforms shows up in their driveway, and the nightmare begins.
Us takes a while to get going, but once it does, it’s off to the races. The score by Michael Abels (Get Out) does a nice job of setting the mood, and the cinematography by Mike Gioulakis (It Follows, Glass) does a nice job of giving us a constant undercurrent of dread, making good use of color and shadow. The violence starts off mild but ramps up into some nice gore, though some of the violence is left to be heard and not seen. Those scenes that happen off camera are nicely effective, being a ll the more disturbing as we picture what is happening in our mind.
Despite this being a scary movie, Peele doesn’t let it lack for humor. The laughs come mostly from Duke’s (Black Panther) Gabe being quick with a joke, even while under dire circumstances. Joseph (The Lion King) gets some quips in as well as daughter Zora. Humor also comes from another couple (Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker).
The big draw here are the performances, as the cast also portray their dopplegangers. Each one has subtle and not so subtle differences. Gabe’s double Abraham is more of a menacing hulk. Zora’s double has a creepy smile, and can run really fast. And Jason’s double is more animalistic in his movements, keeping his face hidden beneath a mask as he scurries ape-like across the ground.
While the entire cast delivers with their performances, it’s Lupita Nyong’o (Black Panther, Star Wars Episode IX) that stands out the most as Adelaide and her counterpart, Red. The differences in both movement and voice are very well highlighted, and yet both are very similar in being fiercely protective wives and mothers to their respective families. Nyong’o’s performance really shows off the duality in her character’s nature, and hopefully will get recognized come awards season.
The movie maintains the suspense throughout, with a nice twist that most won’t see coming and an ending that leaves a nice chill and pretty much begs for a second viewing. In hindsight, I can pick out some of the clues, but while watching for the first time, it really did impact me.
While I feel Us is a better film than Get Out, I don’t know if it will have the same universal appeal to audiences (this seems to be similar to what M. Night Shyamalan experienced with his debut The Sixth Sense and his follow-up, Unbreakable). Us seems to tackle headier philosophical themes rather than socio-political commentary, and that may leave some feel not as connected. Despite that, the performances here are strong enough, and when viewed more as a surrealistic nightmare I think the movie stands on solid ground.
Peele’s sophomore effort Us shows that he is not just a one off writer/director, and proves he has a good grasp on these types of suspenseful horror movies. The fact that both Us and Get Out are very different in their execution, despite the similarity in tone, shows us Peele has some range, and isn’t afraid to take some risks. The movie has me very interested to see what he will do with CBS All Access’s reboot of The Twilight Zone. Us is a successful, scary, at times funny and poignant sophomore effort from an emerging master of the genre, and is well worth a trip to the theater to see. Don’t miss one of this year’s best films so far.