If someone had told me five years ago that the future face of modern horror would be the guy who played baby Forest Whitaker, Obama, and much more in one of the funniest sketch comedy acts of all time, then I’d probably take that man to Vegas and win some money. Jordan Peele came straight out of the gate with one of the most interesting directorial debuts in years with Get Out, and the world was waiting impatiently to see what he had in store for us next. Would his next feature just be Get Out 2? Anybody who has seen his new film Us would definitely respond with a quick denial. Us and Get Out have a relatively similar tone: the similarities stop there. Peele has done the best thing possible as a fledgling director–he has charted new territory.
Us begins with a typical horror movie formula–a family travels to their Santa Cruz vacation home for the summer which is fifteen minutes away from civilization, and their house is invaded by a group of “strangers.” The mother, Adelaide (the incredible Lupita Nyong’o), is uncomfortable about being close to Santa Cruz because she can feel herself getting closer to a traumatic event from her past involving her doppelgänger. This fear manifests itself when she figures out the invaders are exactly what she was staying away from, and thus begins Jordan Peele’s new mind-bending nightmare.
It’s hard to say that a movie exactly like Us has ever been conceived. Normally when a new film comes out it is easy for people to say that it is like a combination of two films, which tends to make them sound more clever than they actually are. This statement would be impossible with Us, for it is so wildly original and goes in so many unexpected directions that comparing it to previous projects would be fruitless. Jordan Peele takes the originality and mind-bending nature that Get Out exhibits and turns it up to an eleven.
Peele utilizes a Shyamalan-esque method of structuring Us, with there being copious twists and turns throughout until the ambiguous ending. Is it confusing? Hell yes, but in the best way possible. Films are rarely so metaphorical these days, and Us reminds viewers of a time where horror was primarily mental instead of filled with pointless jump-scares. While Peele does include many jump-scares and other horror movie gimmicks, he uses them as they should be: tools that support the suspense already established instead of the entire root of the suspense. The film balances many tones with ease: thinking-man’s sci-fi, horror, drama, and even some comedy from Winston Duke.
All the performances are great, for the film gives each person a chance to shine given their duel role, but the standout is easily Lupita Nyong’o as the lead. She is simultaneously enthralling and disturbing, sometimes both in the same scene and, in one instance, the same shot. Most of the pivotal scenes in the film are conversations between Nyong’o and her shadow, and she would be Oscar-worthy even if she was only playing one of the two. I would say she is a shoe-in for an Oscar nominee at the end of the year, but given the Academy’s track record for skipping over truly talented performances, there is no way to know.
The truly magical thing that Jordan Peele achieves here is how many messages, themes and interpretations that the main story and ending have. The film will undoubtedly (if all goes right) be studied in film classes for many years to come. Walking out of the film, I had a certain interpretation that seemed sufficient to explain the many plot intricacies. However, the more I thought about it, the more I started to realize how much subliminal messaging there was regarding major issue like social structure, free will vs. determinism, and the effects of grief. Every single shot, plot decision, and character seems to mean one thing at the beginning of the movie, and ten other things when the film concludes. Even characters that appear for all of thirty seconds seem to be indicative of some deeper meaning about society that Peele is trying to reference (Jeremiah 11:11).
This review is intentionally vague because describing specific plot details without spoiling the movie is like taking a casual stroll through a minefield. However, I will say that a second view is mandatory to a complete understanding of Us. Every viewer will have missed at least one major detail that will clarify the message even further, and these aspects surface more along the second or even third viewing. The fact that Jordan Peele has gotten to this level of mastery on just his second film is unheard of. I can only imagine what he has planned for the future.
A major complaint that surfaced the internet about this film is that it contains many plot holes. This complaint has validity because there are some moments where Peele asks the audience to suspend disbelief, but I don’t believe that the point revolves around the plot holding up under a microscope. Peele’s ambitions run so high that the logic doesn’t need to 100% line up. Plus, once the true motivation and story of the doppelgangers is revealed, the plot is already pretty damn ludicrous; to add regular logic to that would be missing the point. The only complaint that I have regards a large exposition dump near the end that basically explains all of the events in one scene, but I don’t see how Peele could have avoided including this scene how it is. It also contains some impeccable direction and chilling imagery, so there isn’t too much to complain about regardless.
Us is the first must-see theatrical release of 2019. Jordan Peele has already risen to the ranks of A-list directors with only his second film and I can’t think of a more deserving person. He has an acute awareness of the motifs exploited in his story that remind one of early Christopher Nolan but with a more political and socially-conscious bent. This is definitely the first Oscar frontrunner of the year–if Get Out can receive as many nominations as it did then this one one sure as hell can. Each person will have their own interpretation of this movie, which is why it is so necessary to check it out while it is still in theaters.
I give Us an A.