March 22, 2019 Us ( Movie Review)
Jordan Peele’s highly anticipated sophomore film, Us, arrived in theaters on Friday, March 22nd through Universal Pictures.
The story focuses on a typical American middle class family – The Wilsons – consisting of mother Adeline (Lupita Nyong’o: Black Panther 2018, 12 Years a Slave 2013), father Gabe (Winston Duke: Black Panther 2018, Avengers: Infinity War 2018), and their two children, elder daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph: Hairspray Live! 2016, The Lion King 2019) and youngest son Jason (Evan Alex: Mani 2017, Kidding 2018). More than 30 years ago, Adeline, as a child, wandered away from her parents and into a funhouse at a beachside carnival where she encountered her doppelganger, which scared her so badly it gave her PTSD. The now adult Adeline and her family are going to the beach house in Santa Cruz for the first time since her childhood traumatic event.
As viewers will know going in, they are quickly visited by a family of doppelgangers of themselves, one for each member including a grown Adeline. Unlike home invaders in Horror films like 2008’s The Strangers and 1997’s Funny Games, the doppels have an innate connection to each of their real world counterparts. The doppels are all violent and Adeline’s doppel is intelligent and clearly the leader as the only one that speaks. This is only the tip of the iceberg in a story that has much more depth and purpose than anyone expected.
If there was any doubt over Peele’s storytelling ability after his 2017 debut feature Get Out, it will be put to rest here. Much more ambitious than Get Out, where the concept borrowed heavily from 1956’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Us feels more like Peele in free form. He is clearly a master craftsman who has his own style which blends suspense, comedic timing, and social commentary. The less one knows about this story going in the better it will be.
Peele nudges the viewer in the right direction with tropes and clues that viewers will catch and follow, but where exactly that journey goes and how it plays out in the end will leave them shocked. This is a movie that warrants a second viewing so the viewer can see where Peele’s cinematic sleight of hand fooled them exactly how he wanted to.
The performances are fantastic, especially that of leading lady Nyong’o. Each of the actors had to play two parts, their real world selves and the mostly non-vocal, personal-less doppels, which are wildly different from each other in every way down to how they move. Nyong’o’s range is all over the place here – protective, vulnerable, traumatized, and frightened as Adeline, and menacing, driven, insane, and somewhat awkward-moving as her doppel, Red – and she knocks all of it out of the park. Duke plays the funny and endearing husband perfectly, and a hulking, voiceless brute as his doppel, Abraham. Even the child actors are very good, the acting in the eyes of their doppel versions are one of the most frightening things in the film.
However, if there is any small criticism with Us it is that it encompasses a bit more than it is able to handle. This is a story that is meant for audience discussions, which will no doubt happen for years to come, but there is an element of overarching pertinence that is not quite contained within the rest of the story. Additionally, there is an unseen meta-backstory involving tunnels and test subjects that is never fully explored, but these seem like small potatoes next to the top-shelf writing, acting, and directing throughout the movie.
Us clocks in at 2 hours and does not drag for a moment. Part of that is Peele’s story pacing and part is how he let’s viewers know that they need to pay attention by planting numerous ‘Chekhov’s Gun’ shots in the first act. He creates an excellent original story that certainly references Horror classics but are never used as a crutch, and a truly terrifying atmosphere awash in poignant social commentary. All in all, Us hits most of its notes perfectly and was well worth the wait. An excellent Horror film and a shoo-in to be on the list of best Horror films of the year later on, Cryptic Rock gives Us 4.5 out of 5 stars.