Jordan Peele delivers another nightmare with ‘Us’
Jake Winningham | Monday, March 25, 2019
Jordan Peele couldn’t have asked for a better debut as a writer-director than “Get Out,” a critical and commercial success that boosted the former sketch comedian’s Hollywood profile into the stratosphere. How does one follow up a movie that made over $250 million, won an Oscar and seized the zeitgeist seemingly upon release? Peele answers that question with “Us,” a messy, ambitious film that expands upon the promise of its predecessor while reminding viewers of what made “Get Out” such a special movie in the first place.
The breakneck opening act of “Us” sets up the story and characters in a fraction of the time it would take a lesser film. The Wilson family is making their annual trip to Santa Cruz, where matriarch Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) suffered a traumatic experience as a child involving a house of mirrors and an attack by what she believes is her doppelgänger. Her husband Gabe (Winston Duke in a role that weaponizes dad jokes like heatseeking missiles) ignores her concerns — up until they receive a late-night visit from four jump-suited, scissor-wielding figures that look a whole lot like the Wilsons. From there, Peele’s script jumps into overdrive, laying on genre thrills and ponderous exposition in equal measure.
Both “Get Out” and “Us” betray the director as a bona-fide horror nerd, as Peele gleefully traffics in allusions to older films in the genre. Part of the fun of rewatching “Get Out” comes from attempting to spot the reference in each shot, be it the “Halloween”-style suburban terror of the film’s cold open or the way the entire film makes explicit the fear implied in a movie like “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner.” “Us” doubles down on this predilection: The home-invasion scene recalls the casual brutality of Haneke’s “Funny Games” or “The Strangers” series of movies. There’s even a pair of identical twin girls straight out of “The Shining.” Cut away all of the relative artifice of these references, however, and you’re still left with the best, most original horror movie made in America since — you guessed it — “Get Out.”
It almost seems unfair to continue comparing Peele’s latest film to his first, especially given that they are crucially different in intent and scope. Where “Get Out” was a tight, incisive satire of liberal racism, “Us” is sprawling and unclear in terms of its “target,” if it even has one. That wide-focus nature works to both the benefit and detriment of the movie; it is funnier and scarier than “Get Out” but also not nearly as narratively tight. Peele may falter at times in “Us,” but he does so with gusto; the massive chunk of backstory provided in the movie’s climax would completely derail the film if not for a breathtaking split-diopter shot from Peele and a dynamite dual performance from Nyong’o as both Adelaide and her identical antagonist.
You’ll notice that I have provided only the bare bones of the film’s plot. “Us” is best experienced knowing as little as possible narrative-wise, especially given that the seismic twist at the end of the film is spoiled by a throwaway shot in the trailer. If you saw “Get Out” and enjoyed it, that alone should serve as endorsement enough for this movie (if you saw “Get Out” and didn’t enjoy it, there’s no helping you). As it exists independent of his first movie, however, the latest from Jordan Peele is still essential viewing for movie fans in 2019.
Perhaps only Peele himself could come up a two-word line of dialogue that generates laughs and goosebumps in equal measure while reframing everything about the movie from its opening epigraph to the title of the film itself. After Adelaide Wilson meets her bloodthirsty mirror family, she asks them who they are. “We’re Americans,” her double whispers back.
Starring: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke
Director: Jordan Peele
If You Like: “Get Out,” “It Follows,” “The Shining”
Shamrocks: 4 out of 5