Jordan Peele’s directorial debut “Get Out” was essentially the film of 2017. The film that shook the world, the “little engine that could” so to speak. Grossing nearly $300 million off a puny $4 million budget and garnering Peele an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, it was a film that no one expected and by the end of the year, the film no one could stop talking about. Naturally, the world remained anxious to see what his next endeavor behind the camera would be. We didn’t have to wait long, because just two years later, we have “Us”.
This is essentially Jordan Peele’s genre buffet. For just his second feature, Peele expertly mixes so many horror sub-genres while still telling a fresh and bold new story.
The story, about a typical family traveling to their summer vacation home but are stalked by their seemingly evil doppelgängers makes for one of the strangest and most ambitious genre films in quite some time.
The cast is universally excellent. Having to play two distinct versions of themselves is no easy task, yet every actor glides into each personality with impressive skill.
Starring as Adelaide, the mother of the family, Lupita Nyong’o gives possibly her best performance to date, ranking amongst Toni Collette in “Hereditary” and Essie Davis in “The Babadook” as one of the great horror performances this decade. The duality of her character is perhaps the most important aspect of the film and Nyong’o brings the warmth and strength to her mother character, and is completely chilling and unrecognizable as her doppelgänger.
Winston Duke brings a lot of humor to the father character, Gabe. Duke, known to most audiences as M’Baku in “Black Panther”, plays the usual cool dad trying to stay “hip” for his kids, but instead comes off as dorky. Duke nails Peele’s sense of humor and he also portrays a good amount of heart that the films benefits from.
Both child actors, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex are just as strong as their adult co-stars. The doppelgängers for the kids have a striking physicality that both actors pull off in strides. Elizabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker are also quite good playing friends of the family.
With “Us”, Jordan Peele has truly elevated his craft. This is one of the best directed horror films of the past few years. Peele further solidifies himself as a master craftsman in storytelling. One sequence in particular feels pure Kubrickian. Not coming off as an imitation, but as if Kubrick were alive today and directed it.
Peele uses the camera in many unique ways and numerous shots will go down as iconic. So much information is expertly packed into every frame that like “Get Out”, multiple viewings are sure to be a requirement.
The musical score by Michael Abels is destined to become one of the most iconic horror scores of this decade. Using the Luniz track “I Got 5 On It” to sheer perfection, Abels uses a violin-heavy, orchestral sounding score that helps escalate the tension, while creating a sometimes surreal atmosphere that fits the material perfectly.
Perhaps the biggest setback in “Us” is the lack of genuine scares. Peele has no issue creating atmosphere and tension, but whenever he tries to pull off a big scare, he never fully succeeds. The opening 10 minutes are as tense an opening can be and is certainly chilling, but there’s nothing that truly frightened me.
This is a much more vicious and downright nastier film than “Get Out”, which really works and Peele certainly doesn’t hold back, but I can’t help but feel the impact should’ve been greater. Peele’s allegorical filmmaking also tends to get in the way of story logic. With a story this crazy and reveals this strange, you’re willing to go with it a long way, but some of the craziest reveals don’t always add up.
It’s the problem of revealing too much or slightly too little. Elements of the story are kept vague while others are fully explained which causes several plot holes. I love ambiguity in films, but “Us” would’ve benefitted from either not revealing anything, or revealing everything. Not in the middle.
Lastly, a late-in-the-game reveal has me at odds with myself, frankly. I won’t dare go into spoilers, but as of this writing, I’m not sure if I accept it or not.
Jordan Peele is certainly saying a lot here. “Us” is the type of film that you can read different ways and it’ll work regardless. You can take it for what it is at face value; a crazy and bold genre mash-up with outstanding performances, top-tier cinematography and masterful direction, but you can also see it as a commentary on duality and how we are all our own worst enemy. It’s film that requires a lot of thought and will certainly need time to digest.
While I may have questions about some of the logic and several creative decisions, there’s no denying Jordan Peele’s “Us” is a wildly ambitious and occasionally chilling satire that’s a sight to behold.