It has come. The time when moviegoers get to be excited about the latest Jordan Peele movie has arrived, and Peele proves that he is no one-hit-wonder with his latest film, “Us.”
The Comedy Central actor of the show “Key & Peele” turned horror-genre writer, producer and director wowed audiences with his 2016 film, “Get Out.” After winning an Academy Award for best screenplay, expectations for his next project were immensely high.
Peele transcends his audience’s expectations based both on their conceptions of the horror genre and on him as an artist.
“Us” takes place in modern America and follows the Wilson family trying to enjoy the first few days of their summer vacation in Santa Cruz, when their lives are suddenly disrupted as a family that appears identical to them, dressed in red jumpsuits and wielding gold scissors, try to invade their home.
The only clue Adelaide Wilson, played by Lupita Nyong’o, can provide to her husband, Gabe Wilson, played by Winston Duke, is a disturbing memory she has of an experience in a house of mirrors as a child.
In this house of mirrors, she saw herself. The version of herself that she saw, however, was not her reflection. It was something else.
As the family travels through numerous perils in this film that is equal parts home-invasion horror, slasher, sci-fi, thriller, comedy, and social commentary, they learn more about themselves. They learn more about us.
This film hits all the right notes. It is rare that such bold ideas and premises actually work in a film that participates in so many different genres.
The standout performance is, without a doubt, Lupita Nyong’o as Adelaide and Red. Her talent carries the film’s plot forward without coming across as absurd or overreaching. Often in the same scenes, her performance is cause for absolute terror and hope in the hearts of audience members.
Winston Duke also does a terrific job as Gabe Wilson. Moments of levity and comedy in a film with such dark themes and occurrences often come across as either being ham-fisted or as breaking up the motion of the plot for the sake of a joke that would never realistically occur in such dire circumstances, but Duke successfully navigates these murky waters and creates that rare, perfect blend of levity and horror in his characters.
The actors for their children are fantastic, especially considering the poor track record of child-actors in horror films. In addition to acting well as normal kids, these actors must also portray the children in the family that is terrorizing the Wilsons.
This speaks to both their talent as actors and to Peele’s gift as a director.
Additionally, Michael Abels composes a powerful score that both subtly hints towards the posed duality in the film while advancing the directorial tricks being played on the audience.
The social commentary embedded within “Us” is, if nothing else, thought-provoking, as it is structured by taking something familiar to audiences and then challenging its foundation through certain conceptualizations.
Rather than opting to beat his audience over the head with a message, Peele adds his two cents into a national conversation by thoughtfully weaving an argument throughout his story.
One spot for criticism in “Us” is that the film’s narrative, while thrilling, terrifying and bold, can be interpreted so many ways that certain concepts might not seem to line up with the events happening on screen.
This film is more concerned with the conceptualization of horror and using original ideas to move the plot forwards than with concrete worldbuilding. Because these ideas are so new to some audience members, some will be confused by seemingly contradictory elements of the film’s world.
This film is one that will be debated for years to come. For many, that is a wonderful aspect of filmmaking. Ambiguity, symbolism and allegory are plentiful in this cinematic experience, and while some may love that, others will detest it.
I believe that tasteful ambiguity can absolutely work for a film. One of the basic rules of making good horror films is that what is not defined is always more terrifying than what is. “Us” leaves a lot up to interpretation. As soon as the credits roll, every viewer will leave the theater filled to the brim with questions that demand a second viewing.
“Us” is not a film that will be enjoyed by all. If you don’t like horror movies in general, you probably won’t like this film.
For those who are open to having their ideas challenged by a masterful piece of art that, though imperfect, embodies the type of storytelling that marks the best films in pop culture history, “Us” is certainly worth a few trips to the theater.