Moviegoers were blown away by comedic actor Jordan Peele's directing debut, the Oscar-winning horror/comedy/social commentary flick Get Out. But success only breeds bigger creative challenges, and now the world is eagerly waiting to see if Peele will evolve and rise or crash and burn with his sophomore effort, the sci-fi horror-thriller Us. So is Us a worthy successor to Get Out? The answer is more complicated than a lot of Get Out fans probably expect, but ultimately, Us proves Jordan Peele is more than just one of horror's most talented voices: he's a true cinematic maestro.
Us follows the Wilson family as they vacation at their beach house in Santa Cruz, California. What starts out as a your typical fun/agitating/corny family vacation experience turns into a slow-burn build of dread as family matriarch Adelaide (Lupita Nyong'o) begins to notice ominous portents of something disastrous approaching. Adelaide's premonition comes true that night when the Wilsons notice a strange family standing in their driveway.
Before the Adelaide or her husband Gabe (Wilson Duke) can get help or make a move, the entire family finds themselves faced with their own evil dopplegangers, whose sole intent is to sadistically toy with and eventually kill their respective "others." At first, the Wilsons believe they are the only ones trapped in this living nightmare, but as the night wears on, they quickly realize that something much bigger and horrific is happening, as the whole world seems to be at war with its own dark reflections come to life.
Get Out was a straightforward horror movie that offered impressive flourishes like sharp comedy, innovative mythos ("The Sunken Place"), and hard-hitting social commentary. Comparatively, Us is a much more subtle and tightly orchestrated multi-genre piece, one that has much a bigger scope and ambition than its predecessor. The film is truly a cinephile's dream, with each piece of imagery and dialogue contributing to the construction of an intricate web of symbolism, metaphor, and implication. Us touches on so many social issues (and perhaps the whole of "society" itself) through careful brushstrokes of implication and inference without ever getting too bogged down or hitting the audience over the head with the "message."
Peele's work as both writer and director is so richly layered that the film still tugs at the mind long after its done; the final act in particular is such a mind-screw in both its events and reveals that the ending changes the entire nature of the viewing experience that preceded it. That's all to say, seeing Us is just primer for a second viewing, effectively making the audience create dopplegangers of their own to view the movie again from a similar, but slightly skewed, new perspective. It's a masterful feat to pull off, and what Jordan Peele has done here will keep people debating and discussing long after Us ends its run in theaters.
Of course, the premise of the film wouldn't work at all without a highly talented cast helping to bring it to life. Any awards talk for Lupita Nyong'o's performance here is well deserved, as the Oscar winner carries the heaviest portion of Us squarely on her back. Her dual character performance as Adelaide and evil doppleganger "Red" are so complexly layered and connected that it's practically a one-woman showcase; just trying to unravel the full subtleties of it will keep you busy for days. On the other end of the spectrum, Nyong'o's Black Panther co-star Wilson Duke steps up to own his first big leading man role, playing a "charming and affable dad" type who is desperately trying to comprehend and cope with the freakish situation his family is plunged in. Young Evan Alex and Shadhadi Wright both give breakout performances as the Wilson kids, providing intense fear and dread in their doppleganger roles. There are some other appearance from famous faces like Handmaiden's Tale star Elisabeth Moss and Aquaman's Yahya Abdul-Mateen II -- and even those small parts are anchored by some great character actor performances.
In the end, Us is Jordan Peele's proud and confident declaration that his talent and success is far from being a one-time fluke. There are few filmmakers who can so effectively create entire worlds in their own unique signature, and then leave us wanting to play in, dissect, and discuss that world well beyond the film's ending. Peele accomplishes all of that while keeping viewers on the edge of their seats all along the way. So whether you're in it for the surface thrills or the deeper experience, Us will satisfy you regardless, two times over.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Us is in theaters March 22nd.