For his sophomore feature film as a director, Jordan Peele returns to the realm of horror but also takes on a whole new approach with Us. But there’s also a great deal to admire about how much ambition Jordan Peele is showing in regards to where he wants to take his career, going from the funny guy on MADtv and Key & Peele to an Oscar-winning creator of horror films starting with Get Out. That’s about everything I feel can really be said about the fact that Peele is willing to take on a new challenge with Us, because there’s an incredible sense of confidence that one can pick up on from looking at what he presents for your eyes to see. But something else that I’m also finding myself loving about this new turn for Jordan Peele is the notion that this time around he seems to be unveiling even more potential for what he could bring to the horror genre. Like all the very best, he finds a way to get under your skin, but Peele’s vision is so distinctly made out of a love for the genre to that point even the most familiar concepts could be made into something more abstract.
On its surface, this is a story of an African-American family, just like any other. It’s a perfectly apt nuclear family, with the mother (Lupita Nyong’o as Adelaide), the father (Winston Duke as Gabe), the daughter (Shahadi Wright Joseph as Zora), and the son (Evan Alex as Jason). They’re all going on a vacation to the beaches of Santa Cruz, but are soon greeted by copies of themselves who are also set out to murder them – that’s all you would really need to know about the film before seating down. The film’s title already would give a viewer a vague idea of what’s set to come by, but also the very scope of what everything could possibly mean. The film already promises you that a sinister ordeal is coming by from the very first image and there’s no clarity to where he can take you, but it’s never not fascinating. Peele leaves you hanging by a thread, trying to figure out where exactly it will lead you, but getting a hold of the bigger picture soon enlightens you to another idea that’s teased out. In part, Peele presents the core of the film to become both what you’d want and beyond that, in the best and worst sense, but there’s never a moment where he leaves you feeling disengaged from what you had been witnessing.
There’s a very clear idea laid out from the concept of the nuclear family, but Peele also explores the damages that had come beforehand in as much as a single setting – something that he’s managed to work so beautifully into Get Out. But unlike Get Out, the structure of Us seems to go the opposite direction too, in the sense that the film builds its own lore from starting small and then expanding further beyond its own reach. Yet it also gives a clear idea of Jordan Peele’s talent behind setting the perfect ambience for his own films, from the beautifully sinister imagery to Michael Abels’s phenomenal score and most the placement of the film’s music cues (the usage of Luniz’s “I Got 5 on It” being especially eerie, akin to “Run Rabbit Run” in Get Out). As all of this ties in with the film’s social commentary, it also builds up into becoming something more haunting. It’s clear enough that Peele was using many of the same skills that allowed Get Out to work so well as a satirical take on the perceptions of race relations in America, but Us makes its thematic content clear as day from the core concept of seeing double and Peele looks upon creating something more expansive as pieces of the puzzle are given out one by one.
It only occurred to me after having finished up Us that Lupita Nyong’o, the film’s lead, had not been in much after winning the Oscar for 12 Years a Slave. Seeing her again in here had only reminded me how brilliant she was, but her performance in here only left me wondering why she hadn’t even been given a leading role ever since then, because of how wonderfully she puts herself into her character(s). You can feel her plight from the first frame to last, and soon enough you’re finding yourself into more of a daze as the film keeps going. Much like Get Out, the comedy gels really well together even with the darkest moments and Winston Duke’s role serves well enough like Lil Rel Howery’s part in the latter. A part of me was also wishing that there was more time for Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss’s characters, but I still loved what they both had to offer – particularly Heidecker. The children are great too, and here’s hoping that Jordan Peele might also make great stars out of them in the future.
Peele leaves a great deal to unpack, but in an attempt to avoid going into spoilers, I can only leave you with the fact that the many Easter eggs he lays out all add up to what make a rather terrifying summation. With all of this having been said, I think there’s a whole lot to admire about how it gets its commentary across with very little being said upfront – akin to a very polar opposite of Get Out. Though maybe a more fitting descriptor would be like a mirror. Like said film, its own anti-authoritarianism theme still finds itself running clear especially in how much character is given to the film’s antagonists, but as they also begin to reveal far more about the nature of the leads, it also says a great deal about the psychological complexity that Peele is aiming for, especially in the perception of one’s own enemy. Perhaps this is rather blunt, but it’s still creates a resonant effect upon its own viewer. It also leaves one wondering a lot about what were set to come upon the reveal of the twist, but as obvious a reveal as it felt to me, I still enjoyed how it played out – though I’m still a bit too unsure how much really adds up at that point. At most, this is a minor issue and I can see this disappearing upon a revisit, but it’s definitely left the film stuck in my head since.
If Jordan Peele were to continue making films in the horror genre, there’s a part of me that’s also rather hopeful that we could eventually see him in the same realm that we did filmmakers like Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper, or George A. Romero – perhaps not direct equivalents but a similar sense of respect towards what they did for the horror genre, because like them, Peele is his own voice. Us is both what’s expected and what’s not for Jordan Peele’s second feature but there’s clearly a sense of confidence in his eye behind the camera which is what helps elevate him above most genre filmmakers, but there’s really no way of telling what he’s got in store for what’s next. Yet much like his debut, Us boasts a masterful sense of craft and even plays around with what’s familiar for a genre that’s often underestimated by many film fans to create something more on the inside. Nevertheless, I admire the confidence that Jordan Peele shows here, because to say the least, this is a film that truly must be seen in order to be believed. Everything that one would have loved about Get Out is here, but so is a whole lot more too.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Universal Pictures.
Directed by Jordan Peele
Screenplay by Jordan Peele
Produced by Jason Blum, Ian Cooper, Sean McKittrick, Jordan Peele
Starring Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Madison Curry, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Anna Diop
Release Date: March 22, 2018
Running Time: 116 minutes