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« Review: Hotel Mumbai | Main | It's a beautiful day... »
Thursday
Mar212019

Review: "Us"

by Chris Feil

With his Academy Award winning debut feature Get Out, Jordan Peele distilled an expansive theme into one formidable package. His follow-up Us - a film as giddy to scare us as the kind of carnival house of horrors that its young Adelaide wanders into in the film’s opening moments - does the exact opposite. Here Peele builds upon a single idea, one that doesn’t come into its clearest view until the final moments. Whether Peele is asking us to look inward or look outward, he has shown to be one of the sharpest modern storytellers when it comes to exploring an expanse of intertwined psychosocial ideas.

After her brief ominous prologue, we are reintroduced to the adult Adelaide Wilson, played by the immediately knighted scream queen Lupita Nyong’o. Adelaide is beginning a summer vacation with her husband Gabe and two children, Zora and Jason, but she is seemingly ever at ease. After returning to the beach of her unspoken trauma brings her lingering paranoia to the surface, her family is visited upon by a doppelgänger one. And each of these uninvited guests has brought a very large pair of scissors.

Us satisfies immensely in part because Peele is as concerned with developing Adelaide’s inner tension as he is in molding specific family dynamics. As oblique as some of the thematics at play in the film initially appear, Peele establishes them around what feels like a very real family unit, one crafted with believable petty annoyances and protective affection. And their center of gravity is the unacknowledged weight of Adelaide’s fear of the world around them, like a stone in their shoe they have learned to live with and adjusted their posture accordingly.

All of this is fully realized in the sensational performance that Lupita Nyong’o gifts us with. As Adelaide, she is able to humanize a very tricky and internal psychosis, giving clarity to the sense that her fears have festered and solidified over time. Then as her mirror image Red, she becomes a terrifying manifestation of all of it and also something frighteningly unfathomable. Seldom does a single role in any genre demand a performer to flash this much range, and Nyong’o delivers something unquestionably robust. It’s a performance both moving and unsettling in its physical expressiveness, a Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter all in one and an unflinching headfirst dive into the film’s capacity for the deeply strange.

But the showcase provided for Nyong’o is also reinforced by an equally adept ensemble playing their internal and familial roles to their capacity. As Gabe, Winston Duke emerges as our new quintessential cinematic dad, spouting dad jokes and feigning control with thoughtful comedic precision. With a performance as hilarious and comfortable with the many levels at play in Us, one can hope and easily imagine that we will see him everywhere after this.

Elsewhere, Shahadi Wright Joseph as Zora and Evan Alex as Jason bring smart, understated layers to the family dynamic (particularly in how they approach Adelaide’s baggage as a sibling unit) without the trappings of shrieking child horror performances. As Gabe’s married friends, Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker make the comedic and unsettling most out of limited screentime as a couple built on suppressed self-loathing.

In playing with the dualities of evil opposites that are also mirror reflections of our deepest concerns, Peele turns an individual’s story into a tapestry of contemporary ailments. The target here is status and engineered societal divides, and the fear of dismantling - of the self, of our protective units, and especially of the barriers that separate “us” from “them”.  Some of the film’s most fascinating aspects are how such ills extrapolate out from the personal to the global, and how we pretend to remedy it. Whether in forced niceties between acquaintances or large scale empty demonstrative shows of togetherness, here embodied through the Hands Across America moment of 1986 - a campaign who’s cutesy logo visually depicted a literal divide across the map antithetical to its purpose. When asked who they are, Red flatly states “We’re Americans.”

All of this allows Peele to create a very fun film that finds the sinister in the mundane and pushes the limits of mainstream for the bizarre. You can forgive the film’s slight overlength considering just how much the writer/director gives us to chew. Even as the film works in a traditional horror structure, its intellectual rigor makes it unpredictable. It’s as daring an allegorical vision as Darren Aronofsky conceived with mother! but not nearly as haughty, and Peele never falls prey to pretension. Us is first and foremost a great time at the movies.

Perhaps most rewarding of all is that Us gives the audience the most special of delights for horror films: Peele leaves us with dozens of mysteries to be explored on rewatch. Trust that we will be unpacking the layers of meaning in this film - and the terrifying genius of Lupita Nyong’o’s performance - for quite some time.

A-

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Reader Comments (21)

This review is the perfect argument for why I want all reviewers to give some kind of rating (something that many new reviewers don't do any more).

I scroll down the whole review (because I want NO SPOILERS AT ALL for this one) and read the rating.

Thanks Chris. (I promise I will come back and read it once I have seen the movie.)

March 21, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTravis C

plan on seeing it this next week... I, too, do not read reviews beforehand.

March 21, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterrdf

Chris, you are very gifted as a reviewer. Often I will read your words about a movie I wasn't particularly drawn to and be "well, gotta see that now, don't I?".

On a sidenote, shame that it took 5 years from her Oscar win for Lupita to get the showcase she deserved. I hope this is a megahit like Get Out was, so she can manage to get the Eclipsed movie adaptation green lit.

March 22, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterCarmen Sandiego

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March 22, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterjohnmarker

Damn Lupita, chase that nom.

March 22, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterWalter

Not sure how I feel about this new movie trend of Creepy [Prestigious Actress]. This year alone gives us Creepy Isabelle Huppert, Creepy Lupita Nyong'o, and Creepy Octavia Spencer.

March 22, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBrevity

I’d rather read about Marget Robbie...

March 22, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTOM

Tom-so go find an article about Margot Robbie. Jesus

Dumb question: are there are lot of jump scares

March 22, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

Peter - there are not a lot of jump scares, but a lot of tense moments where it feels like something is going to happen.

March 22, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

Well, I was underwhelmed. Not really any jump scares. And most of the humor, specially from the husband/father did not land. Finally, when you analyze the movie after, plot holes galore (I think it needed two or three more reviews of the screenplay ) which make the ending difficult to justify.

March 23, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPedro

I had high hopes and I was majorly let down. I don't think the plot worked at all. I think he let his ego get in the way of making a concise film. Too much going on, too much convenience in the plot, as well as many plot holes. It sucks because there really was a lot of potential, but they should've either gone totally black comedy, batshit crazy like it did sometimes, or go totally serious/scary like it did at others. Because where it sat in the middle didn't work for me. The movie overall did not work. So many things didn't make sense to me, and I hated how much was being explained to me. Sigh.

March 24, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

..."Peele never falls prey to pretension."

Liza Minelli LIES! lol.

March 24, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

I was a fan of Lupita’s performance(s) - especially in retrospect - but this movie is chockful of plot holes (egregiously so, in fact). I admire Peele’s ambition, but it seems like he was trying to pack elements of all of his favorite horror/sci-fi classics into one narrative at the expense of cohesion. That being said, I hope he continues to work with composer Michael Abels and cinematographer Mike Gioulakis going forward. They’re two of the most exciting artists working today.

March 24, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMJ

The trailer left me cold but as fan of horror I must see what the mind who created "Get Out" is up to.

March 24, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

@Brevity:

That's why I didn't like Hereditary. Sure, Collette has range for days in terms of volume/emotion/complexity/interiority.

I just thought that movie had a garish way of exploiting her talent. If you tell an actress "Your daughter's just been decapitated, now howl in bereaved agony," of course Collette is up to that task.

But is the task worthy of her? I'm not convinced.

Maybe that's the dreaded "genre bias" this site hates. :-P

March 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterH

I'd say that the mirror scene is half an Oscar handed to Elizabeth Moss...

March 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJesus Alonso

Well made movie and Lupita finally gets to show a different side but I left thinking I need to go online and find an explanation of the big plot. :/

March 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSanty C.

SPOILERS:

Liked it a lot, B+. But plot holes or things I needed more explanation in order to tick up to A or A- include:

- Why bunnies? And why scissors?
- Were they exact replicas of people, and just underdeveloped with regards to speech, etc. because they lived underground without access to full society? Or were they lesser "copies" a la Michael Keaton in "Synchronicity"?
- Were the replicas "seeing" what was going on above, or just supernaturally mimicking it?

March 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterParanoid Android

For me it is a B-... Great performance from Lupita and great social comment, but the plot holes and overlenght were killing me by the end of the movie. It's smart and it has some very sinister moments... but the thing is I was relieved when the ending credits appeared.
Maybe I had too high expectations for this one since I loved "GET OUT" so much and people were raving "US" a lot.

March 27, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterEd

The more I think about it, the more unsatisfying the film is.

Regardless, terrific set-up and first 2/3rds (3/4ths?). Still a lot to love in it but as a whole the film fails.

April 8, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAnon

This post is brilliantly written. Our eyes are trained to start from the left. Short sentence strategy and enough white space helped me a lot to enjoy your writing. I’m struggling to adopt such a style.

May 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRonald Franklin

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