After Jordan Peele’s box-office sensation two years ago, this sophomore release just had the largest debut for an original horror film. See what our movie critic has to say about it.
WATCH THE TRAILER(S) HERE:
KEY CAST MEMBERS: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Anna Diop, Evan Alex, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Madison Curry, Cali and Noelle Sheldon
DIRECTOR(S): Jordan Peele
THE BACK STORY: Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) has a loving (if not somewhat cheesy) husband in Gabe (Winston Duke) and two loving, if not distracted by their cell phone and own devices children in Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex). Headed to a beach home for the summer, Gabe and her two children are looking forward to a relaxing time with their friends the Kitty (Elisabeth Moss) and Josh Tyler (Tim Heidecker) and their two daughters (Cali and Noelle Sheldon).
What nobody knows, however, is that while everyone else seems to be ready to have a good time, the Santa Cruz beach holds a horrible memory for Adelaide: For this is where, in 1986, she got lost from her parents one night, wandered into a house of mirrors and got a terrible scare in the form of the one person she wouldn’t have expected to cause it: herself.
Traumatized by seeing her dopplegänger, Adelaide’s PTSD has laid dormant until she returns to the beach and Jason goes missing for 5 minutes. The real horror, however, awaits when the Wilsons return to their beach home that night and Jason – who got a glimpse of a man with bloody fingers standing at the beach with his back turned to him – says six words:
“There’s a family in our driveway.”
There goes the neighborhood … And possibly a few more, too …
THE REVIEW: The type of film people could – and likely will – end up writing college dissertations about in both film and social studies classes, Us is an entertaining, engaging and – pardon the language – mind**** of a horror movie. And while his first work may have had more direct, easily digestible social commentary, Us proves that Jordan Peele has a lot to offer in terms of getting us to think about life in many aspects – even if that means leaving us in awe of what it is we exactly should be pondering about both his films and ourselves.
First things first, Us shows that while horror is a genre that gets about as much respect from award season voters as does say, oh, superhero movies, you need a really talented lead to make them work in any capacity; in Nyong’o’s case, I dare you to find a better performance – let alone in a dual capacity as the traumatized Adelaide and her deliciously devilish dopplegänger Red – that the one she brings here. Playing two opposite ends of a very difficult to showcase spectrum, Nyong’o makes every scene an intense, can’t-turn-your-eyes-away moment once the film’s second act gets going. Throw in the Black Swan-like climax and while she likely won’t get nominated for anything outside of a MTV award, Nyong’o will likely make voters think long and hard about how they are going to justify not giving her at least a Best Actress nod.
That’s not to suggest that Nyong’o is the only one who shines in their respective role, however. Duke is phenomenal as the completely out of his element, book smart but NOT street smart Gabe, which is only enhanced by his gruff, lumbering, Incredible Hulk (or should that be M’Baku-like?) performance as his uneducated, only-existing-to-kill-opposite Abraham. Then again, keeping with a longstanding horror movie tradition, Alex pulls off both his roles as the mask wearing Jason and his fire-obsessed opposite Pluto and Joseph is downright frightening as her character Zora’s smiling devil opposite Umbrae. (Seriously, if you ever see a grown woman, let alone a child, look at you the way Umbrae does, run for your life and when you can’t run anymore, run some more.) Fans of his old Adult Swim shows like Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! will be happy to see Heidecker will be happy to see him up to his old zany tricks in Us while Moss shows that her ability to play innocent in The Handmaid’s Tale shouldn’t overshadow her ability to be a bit, how would you say, malevolent when necessary.
Now, while the film’s cast does a phenomenal job at bringing Peele’s vision to life, the meaning of – and deciphering what exactly that meaning is – Us is one that will rouse great debates well past the time audiences leave the theater. Given the twisty (and not in a M. Night Shyamalan way) nature of the plot, there is so much to unpack that one could see the film two or three times and not process everything in it. While the film contains homages to many celebrated horror films of the past – as well as being inspired somewhat by a Twilight Zone episode (which, given that Peele will now be the Rod Serling for the upcoming CBS reboot of the show makes perfect sense) – Us can be viewed from many aspects: (1) Is Peele trying to say something about how class has almost become as important in modern America after bubbling up since the 1980s; (2) Is this an exploration of how one can truly be one’s own worst enemy or, on a deeper level; (3) how the suppressing one’s violent side can lead to that side being one day to overtake us all; (4) Is there an even deeper meaning that we’re all missing, like say the film is possibly tied to the world of Get Out where we see a loving African American family trying to distance itself from the trappings of many others with their affluence only to potentially succumb to the same perils of others? or (5) Just a really crazy, well done (albeit not perfect) horror film that makes sure you’ll never think of the Beach Boyz, the Lunizclassic hip-hop work or Hands Across America the same way again? Throw in the film’s ending, which, if you don’t follow all the clues, may serve to help – or further confuse – and you’ve got all you need for a “See, what I think it meant was THIS!” debate among your inner circle.
Well, in the case of Us, the answer will obviously be “yes” – even if we’re not sure if we’re asking the right question. Because whatever the meaning is, the movie is near two hours of insane entertainment that’s sure to make you think about us – and yourself – at large.