‘Us’ Theatrical Review
The buzz around improv actor turned director Jordan Peele has been nothing less than amazing. I remember reading the synopsis of Get Out and it piqued my interest because I’m a horror fan. Then when I saw that the director was the actor from Key and Peele, I had to see it because like many of us, I was interested to see how Jordan would do at the helm of a genre no one would ever think to associate with him. The movie was nothing short of outstanding, and everything Peele has accomplished from it has been well deserved. It also raised the question of “What will Jordan Peele do next and when can I see it?” I don’t remember ever being as excited for a director’s next movie as when I first saw M. Night Shyamalan’s Sixth Sense. The feeling was just the same, as one couldn’t believe what they just saw, but knew they loved it and had to see it again. Just like Shyamalan, we all wanted to see what Peele’s next film would be, and thus doing so, there creates a weight of expectation to duplicate the success of your last film. It’s added pressure that wasn’t there the first time around. But unlike Shyamalan whose flame has been slowly fading with each film, Peele has enough wick on his candle for years to come. US is as entertaining as one can ask for in a director’s sophomore film.
The film is brilliantly paced, mixing scenes of both horror and comedy, where one minute you’ll be laughing at one of many funny one-liners and different visual gags, but the next moment look for the exit door during the many bloody battles between a family and the doppelgangers who look to replace them. Peele dips into the great directors like Hitchcock and Carpenter to create a slasher/stalker thriller that brings one back to the days of Jason Voorhees, where you would yell at someone to escape the house or get off the boat, then yell and scream some more when they go back. He knows exactly the right time to create the right amount of tension, and then will ease it with a dash of the humor he’s been known for (I look forward to seeing shirts made with the quote “We’re Americans.”). Aside from being a great horror movie that follows a family’s survival against their doppelgangers, Peele tackles themes such as the importance of family and makes one question their sense of self.
Before the race for survival takes place, we are taken back to 1986 at a Santa Cruz beachside amusement park where young Adelaide Wilson (Madison Curry) is out for a nice evening with her family. After watching her father try to beat every carnival game, she wanders off to find her own interests and it leads her down to the beach where there is a house of mirrors that doesn’t look safe, but Adelaide’s curiosity leads her inside. Just as she’s about to find the exit, the power goes out from a storm and then she sees what looks like a reflection of herself, but it is something more than that. Fast forward to the present day about 30 years later where an adult Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) and her family consisting of her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and their two children (Evan Alex and Shahadi Wright-Joseph) return to her childhood home for a summer vacation. While discussing going to the beach to meet friends, Adelaide suppressed memories she has never told Gabe return and in making her feel uncomfortable she tells Gabe about that night as a child where in the hall of mirrors she thinks she saw a girl who was her double. Later in the night, their son comes and tells them there is a family standing in the driveway. It sounds ridiculous, but after going to look, there is a family that is identical to theirs, each in red jumpsuits, wearing one glove and carrying scissors. There suddenly is an eerie feeling that takes over as they just stand there and then suddenly they aren’t as Gabe is attacked and Adelaide calls the cops that of course can’t get there for 14 minutes. The family is left to fend for themselves and at one point, after becoming captive, Adelaide realizes her horror is a reality. This family is a shadow of them, their doppelgangers in every way, and Peele makes this fear take over the audience as we watch the Wilsons fight for their lives.
Peele knows how to make the audience cringe, and builds tension at every moment of the film with the great cinemotogophy from Michael Gioulakis and music from composer Michael Abels. But this film does not work if not for the award worthy dual performance of Lupita Nyong’o. She doesn’t bring one, but two golden performances as a mother that must face her own dark secret in order to save her family, and also her doppelganger who is the complete opposite that administers justice with a pair of scissors. Although each family member does a fantastic job as their evil self, Nyong’o’s characters are central and most important for this film to work. There is a scene where Adelaide can kill a child or allow her to suffer dying. For a moment it looks like she will put her out of her misery, but then the look in her eyes and expression change because she can’t. Even though it is not her daughter, she can’t put a knife to her. It is one of my favorite scenes and shows the many emotions Nyong’o must put on. This is her best work since 12 Years A Slave and I continue to be amazed by the range of her acting. Any film that does not consider her for a lead role should be ashamed.
Winston Duke brings his own breakthrough performance as Gabe Wilson. As the head of the household who is trying to act cool in front of his kids, he steals many of the scenes with the comic relief of his performance. The laughs he provides are important in cutting the tension created throughout the film without interrupting the disturbing tone. I laughed most at the scene he was in, especially fighting off his own self, but he is also given his moment as the defender of the family.
Even the kids shine when they are called on to defend the family. I found myself laughing hard at many scenes, but I also saw many people in the audience screaming as well which makes this film a perfect horror film that brings back those great feelings I used to have at the classics like Halloween and Friday the 13th. It’s a fight for survival and you have to fight if you want to live, with few moments to hide. Jordan Peele’s sophomore film entertains, but also gets under the skin of his audience. There is a lot of violence that might be hard to watch for some, but not over the top. All of it is used with great direction of telling a story, which after two films under his belt, Peele seems to be a pro at. There are different forms of symbolism and a bible verse you’ll need to look up to see why it was used in this film.
There are different ideas the film brings, which makes it one you may need to see twice. Jordan Peele pulled his second film with such skill, and US shows a confidence it takes directors years to master or don’t find at all.
Accompanied by her husband, son and daughter, Adelaide Wilson returns to the beachfront home where she grew up as a child. Haunted by a traumatic experience from the past, Adelaide grows increasingly concerned that something bad is going to happen.