Movie Review: Us.
Jordan Peele’s sophomore effort further cements his genius for the genre, even if it doesn’t quite rise to the level of Get Out.
No film is as fraught with expectation as a phenom director’s second outing. After demolishing audiences and critics with his exceptional debut, Get Out, Jordan Peele is back in theaters with another horror/thriller. Filled top to bottom with great acting, led by an electric Lupita Nyong’o, Us delivers much of what made Get Out so great. It is taut, tense, grounded in its characters, and a bloody thrilling ride. A few late act choices rob it of a perfect score, but Us is still one hell of a movie.
The Wilson family summer at their family home outside Santa Cruz beach. The spot deeply unsettles Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o), who had a traumatic experience on the carnival boardwalk of the beach as a child. Her husband, Gabe (Winston Duke), urges her to shake the past and come to the beach for some relaxation. When she starts seeing signs eerily reminiscent of her childhood trauma, she begins to fear that her family is in danger. She is proven correct when a strange family dressed in red appear in front of the summer house, trying to get in.
In the Groove.
Jordan Peele seems to understand horror movies on a molecular level. Every little piece is in its place. The pacing is perfect, with exposition, levity, character development, and action all coming in at the right time. Even when I didn’t like a particular late-story reveal, it was delivered in way that kept the tension ratcheted up and gave a boost to a certain character’s story arc.
The cinematography is elegant. Each location feels well established and developed. We’re kept very close to our protagonists by the camera, which works fantastically in such a claustrophobic and violated environment as the home invasion genre. There are a few sequences towards the end where incredible tracking shots pair with the on-point soundtrack/sound-work perfectly. Besides the nuts and bolts, many of the shots are beautiful, if eerie.
The cast in Us really deliver. At the top of the pyramid is Lupita Nyong’o. Anyone whose seen 12 Years a Slave knows she does intense characters better than almost any working actress, and here she gets to play both sides of a hostage/captor dynamic. Winston Duke brings some fantastic levity to the film, somewhat unexpectedly after his gruff and tough character in Black Panther. The dude is a “dad joke” machine. The kids are engaging, especially as their dark alter egos. The supporting cast is strong, especially Elizabeth Moss who, again, shines as her own dark reflection. One nice treat of the doppelgänger story is that we get to see a fantastic cast twice, and everyone seems to really be sinking their teeth into their alternate personas.
My one complaint about the film is that each of the three acts of the film feel separate. The initial home invasion arc, the larger end of the world narrative, and the intensely personal battle between the two Adelaides each have their own logic and rules. Going from one to the other calls into question assumptions from the previous arc. Some times, the change in rules make earlier bits nonsensical. If its shown that character A knows X, why did they not act on it earlier? If certain actions have established consequences, why are they just abandoned later in the story?
Horror stories have their own logic, and I usually only object if they aren’t consistent. Each act in Us has consistent logic, but logic that seems to only apply to that arc. When you change arcs, that logic either gets superseded, or gets modified in ways that feel inorganic to the piece. It’s not an M. Night Shyamalan cheese twist, but its a noticeable change in the rules.
Get Back In.
Us is a good horror thriller, which excels on a lot of fronts. I loved the cast and the characters they portrayed. Peele has created yet another adjacent reality that feels rock solid and grounded, and which has tons of attention to details (don’t think I didn’t see you slip a VHS of C.H.U.D. into the first scene, Peele!) It’s tight, terrifying, and gorgeous at the same time. Some viewers mileage will vary about the leaps in story logic, but it wasn’t nearly enough to put me off this film. Jordan Peele certainly wasn’t a flash in the pan, and I can’t wait to see whatever he has cooked up next.