Jordan Peele petrifies, ponders, pushes limits with new film 'Us'
Jordan Peele’s new film, "Us,” is a terrifying plunge into a philosophical manifestation of human imagination. Like his debut, “Get Out,” “Us” is a horror film with deeper meanings, Easter eggs and is ripe for fan theories. While “Get Out” focused on race specifically, “Us” widens its scope to America, and, in the words of writer-director-producer Jordan Peele, “the most terrifying thing … the self.”
“Us” follows the Wilson family on their summer vacation in Santa Cruz. The film soon flashes back to a point of childhood trauma for the matriarch of the family, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o). As the young Adelaide wanders off from her parents into a funhouse at the very same Santa Cruz beach, she encounters her doppelgänger. Adelaide is scarred forever by that experience and her fear becomes apparent once her family arrives at their summer home.
The performances are truly remarkable. Each actor must not only portray a terrified suburbanite, but also a menacing creature identical to them. Nyong’o is the clear winner of the film. In addition to Adelaide, she also plays her freighting doppelgänger, Red. Nyong’o, in nearly every scene, makes stylistic choices which work. Her magnetic screen presence holds the audience even as the film crams its obvious metaphors down the audience's gullet.
Winston Duke portrays Gabe Wilson/Abraham. He delivers a comedic performance throughout, with witty comments that provide a salve for the audience as well as human-like reactions to the terrifying nature that is about to come.
The children are equally as brilliant. Evan Alex as Jason Wilson/Pluto frequently has his face covered in a mask but manages to deliver empathy. Shahadi Wright Joseph (Zora Wilson/Umbrae) is tasked with the most difficult performance. While Zora is sweet and reserved, her doppelgänger acts maniacally different not only in personality but also in physicality.
The film’s first half hour plays like a family vacation comedy. The Wilson family rents out a summer house on the bay. There are dad jokes, long car rides and jam seshes to Luniz's “I Got 5 On It.” They are a Black family but that is mostly incidental, unlike in “Get Out.” “Us” focuses more on their economic gains. They are wealthy and, without spoiling any specific details, capitalism serves as the main metaphor of the film.
After a long day at the beach and a brief scare when Jason may have ran off, the Wilsons head home. Gabe, Jason and Zora are all relaxed and ready for bed while Adelaide is deeply stricken by her past experience. Suddenly, a family arrives at the top of the driveway. The family, of course, looks exactly like them. Adelaide asks Red who she is and she simply replies, “We’re Americans.” What follows is a brilliant home invasion sequence that expands and grows throughout the film.
“Us” shows Peele’s development as a director in the two years since “Get Out.” This film is teeming with well-choreographed chase sequences, swooping shots reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” and images that will stay with you days after. “Us” is stacked with visual cues, hidden meanings and has already set the internet ablaze with fan theories and interpretations.
Peele is upfront with his influences for the movie, even displaying VHS tapes of “The Right Stuff,” “The Man with Two Brains” and “The Goonies.” He also references other cultural touchstones throughout like “Thriller” and the aforementioned “The Shining” (with a hilariously eerie set of twins). The rich depth of the filmmaking makes the case for multiple viewings and multiple takeaways.
The only issue with “Us” is a luxury. It simply cannot hone in on one metaphor or meaning. The doppelgängers, or "tethered," and their actions are a catchall for several different things. Peele says outright that it is about America but then drops approximately five other clues as the true meaning. It is a messy film, but the audience is never lost or muddled while viewing, just maybe after.
The trouble with reviewing “Us” is that giving away any detail could ruin the film. I will say that it is a great movie that will keep a viewer thinking long past the end credits. That is no small feat. Most movies come and go without a drop of significance. “Us” will remain on the brain, hopefully that is not a scary thought.
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