US (7 out of 10) Written and Directed by Jordan Peele; Starring Lupita Nyong'o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, and Tim Heidecker; Rated R for violence/terror, and language; Running time 116 minutes; In wide release March 22, 2019.
Jordan Peele is being held to a ridiculously high standard.
It is to be expected after the massive success of Get Out. But to compare his next film, Us, to Get Out is to do Peele a disservice. He uses his second foray into filmmaking to demonstrate his skills at making audiences squirm, and does he ever succeed. Us and Get Out are two entirely separate movies, almost two separate genres, so before I go any further please remove any preconceived comparisons from your mind.
Before filming Us, Peele asked star Lupita Nyong’o to watch The Birds, The Shining, Dead Again, Funny Games, The Sixth Sense, A Tale of Two Sisters, Martyrs, Let The Right One In, The Babadook, and It Follows. Each of these films finds some homage during Us, but I am surprised to see that one is missing—The Strangers. Either way, Us does a fabulous job of taking note from these predecessors while also carving its own path.
Us follows Adelaide (Nyong’o), her husband Gabe (Winston Duke), and children Zora and Jason (Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex) as they visit her family’s vacation home in Santa Cruz, California. Adelaide struggles with the trip, however, as she encountered a traumatic event at the boardwalk amusement park as a child and has been running away from it ever since. The trip back makes her face her past head-on, and with consequences.
The horror of Us isn’t subtly about society or racism, Us is classic horror that feeds on the thing that terrifies everyone—our own faults. The “bad” side of us that we try to bury. The story also isn’t about a targeted attack on Adelaide and her family, which is refreshing to see in a horror movie like this one. They aren’t the victims simply “because they were home” but because they happened to exist alongside everyone else in this world. The shock value doesn’t come from mental twists--this movie is violent, graphic, and bloody.
Nyong’o, as she does in every role, brings her all. She is not afraid to get dirty and is fiercely protective of her children as the nightmares descend. Appearances by Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker I expected to gloss over, thinking they were going to be accessories, however their characters are utilized in ways that are completely unexpected. Both Heidecker and Duke provide breaks of comedic relief just as surprising as the shocks of gore and never seem out of place or forced.
Unfortunately, in the end, Us ends on a flat note. The rollercoaster journey is fun up until the last five minutes where the ride hits an unexpected (yet also expected?) wall. Us falls victim to its own marketing as scenes used in previews give away some crucial plot elements that would have been better left unseen prior to viewing for shock value. Viewers who can piece together storytelling tropes will see the twist coming from the first five minutes of the film. I want to say it’s almost Shyamalanian…but that would be rude. But, if you can avoid as much preview footage as possible before seeing Us, the trip (ending and all) is worth it.