REVIEW: Us (2019)

Theatrical Release Poster – Universal Pictures

The following is a review of Us — Directed by Jordan Peele.

No directorial debut this decade has made as much noise as Jordan Peele’s Get Out did. The social-horror film was made by a comedian from a popular two-man sketch comedy group who, as it turned out, had his finger on the pulse of America. Get Out is not just one of the most discussed films of the decade, it’s also one of the most interesting, one of the most rewatchable, and, arguably, one of the best. Though Us may not be as sharp, potent, or intelligent as Get Out, Peele here proves that he is no one-hit wonder. Get Out wasn’t a fluke, Jordan Peele knows exactly what he’s doing.

Powered by Michael Abels’ excellent eerie score, Us is a home invasion film with a tendency to tickle your funny bone more than you likely expect. It takes place in Santa Cruz, California, where a family has gone on vacation in their holiday home. The family includes the son, Jason (played by Evan Alex), the daughter, Zora (played by Shahadi Wright Joseph), the father, Gabe (played by Winston Duke), and, finally, the mother, Adelaide (played by Lupita Nyong’o). This would be just another normal family were it not for the fact that Adelaide had a severely traumatic experience in a hall of mirrors when she visited an amusement park in Santa Cruz as a child.

Now, in the present day, everything seems fine — that is to say, until they return home from a trip to the beach. At night, Jason spots a ‘family in their driveway.’ Dressed all in red, each with a single glove, and with these golden shears, this other family is a shadow of Adelaide’s. They are dangerous and violent doppelgängers who want to kill their aboveground selves, make themselves ‘untethered,’ and take their place.

Us has been described as a monster movie, another social-horror film, and as a plain old horror film. I’ve seen it, and it’s pretty much all true. Us is as fun as Get Out, tenser than the aforementioned hit, but not as well-put-together as Peele’s first film. I suspect that if you go to the theater expecting as scintillating and searing a film as Get Out, you will not be given exactly what you may have had in mind.

A now-confirmed master of horror with his finger on the pulse of America, Peele packs this film with a lot to chew on. Us is a bit of a Rorschach-test, and I say that as both a good and bad thing. Us is thematically rich, and Peele brings forth thoughts on humanity, poverty, invasion, the other, and social inequality. However, the central metaphor is not as striking, sharp, or succinct as it is in Get Out, and it is likely not wrong to say that the message of the film is easier to comprehend on multiple viewings. Like with Get Out, Peele has packed a lot of intriguing imagery and clues into this film, and I am excited to dissect it with repeat viewings.

For now, Peele’s cinematic inkblot card makes me think of a past coming back to haunt you, repressed emotions and aggression, and the enemy within. For so long, the creature in a monster movie has been fantastical, merely anthropomorphic, of a different species, or otherworldly, but here Peele is afraid of the man in the mirror, and he clearly wants you to think about yourself and your own status and accountability.

It is an ambitious film, but Peele doesn’t quite land all of his big ideas satisfyingly. His film’s original mythology feels underdefined and slightly muddled. I also don’t think the final shot of the film functions as well internationally as it may in the States. Furthermore, though the important revelation of the final act is extremely well-acted, I also thought it was slightly predictable — at the very least, I found myself a step ahead of the film when it made its presence known.

Aside from how Peele turned ‘Good Vibrations’ into a horror movie song, the element of the film that brought the biggest smile to my face was the performance given by Winston Duke who, with his lovable turn as the father of the family, shines. Evan Alex gives a solid performance, but Shahadi Wright Joseph, the actress playing his sister, is brilliant and chilling in the dual role of Zora and her tethered shadow.

Which brings me to Lupita Nyong’o, the Oscar-winning actress, who has been given the biggest responsibility of the cast in her dual role as both the protagonist, Adelaide, and the antagonist, her tethered shadow. Nyong’o is a showstopper in Us. If genre-films weren’t frowned upon at a certain awards show, Nyong’o would be a shoo-in for a nomination. Her motherly determination as Adelaide is compelling and watching her turn into Us‘ final girl is thrilling. But she is just as good as Adelaide’s shadow. I hung onto every word she spoke with her character’s frightening distinctive gravely accent. Lupita Nyong’o is phenomenal.

No sophomore jitters in sight. Peele has delivered yet again. He shows an exceptional understanding of building tension, and I think he is clearly growing as a filmmaker. Thematically rich and rewarding, Us is a strong second feature film that cements Jordan Peele’s status as a must-watch filmmaker and a true master of horror. It is confident, tonally-flexible, thought-provoking, and rewarding.

9 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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