If you thought Jordan Peele’s 2015 thriller “Get Out” left you with a plethora of theories, his latest feature “Us” (released March 22, 2019) will make for a particularly mind-bending car ride on the way home from the theater. Director and writer Jordan Peele, funny-man turned modern-day Hitchcock, has a lot of weight on his shoulders after his directorial debut “Get Out” was nominated for arguably the most prestigious of film awards (the Academy Award for “Best Picture”) in 2018 and even took home an Oscar for Peele’s original screenplay. But regardless of misinterpretation or even utter confusion at the close of his 2019 follow-up, “Us” is undoubtedly a good film and rightfully warrants the seemingly inevitable flood of comparisons to its predecessor.
Lupita Nyong’o leads as Adelaide, mother of an all-American family (Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright-Joseph, Evan Alex) whose trip to the beach is put through a frightening mirror when a figure of her childhood trauma returns to wreak havoc, bringing along with her a family which bears a striking resemblance to that of Adelaide’s. Nyong’o hands in a equally-powerful dual performance as both Adelaide and Red, whose raspy voice evoked squeals from most theater-goers. Winston Duke’s Gabe is the source of most of the comedy, which is a return-to-form for “Comedy Central” alum Jordan Peele and surprisingly viewers grounded in reality in an otherwise supernatural tale.
Upon a first watch, editing and score are a stand-out. Editor Nicholas Monsour weaves seamlessly between the two families, preventing any reminder to audiences that while there are eight characters in a scene at most times, there are really only four actors, each additionally performing as a darker, soulless version of their characters. After “Get Out,” Michael Abels delivers yet another chilling score, chock-full of plucky violin and orchestral horror moans without straying from originality. Child acting is always a concern in horror movies; not every kid can pull off the horrified expressions of “The Shining” Danny Torrance, but Shahadi Wright-Joseph (Zora/Umbrae) and Evan Alex (Jason/Pluto) never fail to keep viewers captivated, and they do competent work as their “tethered” counterparts.
Amongst its strengths, the film’s ability to jump right into the action may have also been part of its biggest flaw; “Us” is littered with easter eggs and leaves audiences with an absurd number of questions. It is certainly deserving of a second watch, which will draw viewers to attend to the film’s tightly-woven script and glimmering clues tucked away in wide shots and in early quips. Its nature of being open to interpretation may scare away some viewers from asking the bigger questions and thus lose a great portion of audiences, but nonetheless the ambiguity will stir up some great debates amongst film buffs in the future.
It’s rare to see pure originality in Hollywood, which is why regardless of technical opinions, “Us” is an unsettling delight. Despite some late lingering questions that blur the line between hard realism and David Lynch-style absurdity, Jordan Peele’s second (and hopefully not final) film is a blast, and it delivers a surprising message about modern-day society which may actually be an eye-opener to some.