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Us Movie Review

Us (2019) movie poster Us

Theatrical Release: March 22, 2019 / Running Time: 121 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Jordan Peele

Cast: Lupita Nyong'o (Adelaide Wilson/Red), Winston Duke (Gabe Wilson/Abraham), Elisabeth Moss (Kitty Tyler/Dahlia), Tim Heidecker (Josh Tyler/Tex), Shahadi Wright Joseph (Zora Wilson/Umbrae), Evan Alex (Jason Wilson/Pluto), Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Russell Thomas/Weyland), Anna Diop (Rayne Thomas/Eartha), Cali Sheldon (Becca Tyler/Io), Noelle Sheldon (Lindsey Tyler/Nix), Madison Curry (Young Adelaide Wilson/Young Red), Ashley Mckoy (Teenage Adelaide Wilson/Teenage Red)

 

Jordan Peele made about as remarkable a transition as one could going from sketch comedy television to horror cinema on Get Out. The 2017 film received critical acclaim, tremendous commercial success, and ultimately
the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Not bad for someone making their first film as writer-director. Now, before Peele can delve into science fiction on the upcoming streaming "Twilight Zone" reboot, he has stayed with horror cinema and given us Us, a film that doesn't best his debut but which stands as a clearly above-average horror movie.

We open in 1986 with a child watching a television that has VHS cassettes like C.H.U.D., The Man with Two Brains, and The Right Stuff nearby. As you should know from probably multiple viewings of Get Out, no detail is insignificant when it comes to Peele's horror. The seemingly innocuous (and, it turns out, authentic) promo for something called Hands Across America will come to have signficance. But first, there is a prologue, set at a carnival at the Santa Cruz beach. There, a young girl named Adelaide enters a fun house of mirrors and discovers something not so much fun as traumatizing.

We will come to discover that the fifteen minutes she spent separated from her parents did much more than just render her silent for a period. In the present day, the girl is in her thirties (Oscar winner Lupito Nyong'o) and now the matriarch of a family of four. Though she has never revealed it to her goofy husband Gabe (Winston Duke, a role one could easily imagine Peele himself playing), she is still haunted by that childhood experience and it is on her mind as the family vacations to the very same beach.

Both the heroes and the villains of Jordan Peele's "Us" are an African-American family of four (played by Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, and Lupita Nyong'o). The doppelgangers dress in red and strike a menacing presence.

While the beach itself seems to be okay (the fun house is still there, under a new name), when the family gets home, they are troubled by the sight of four people who appear to resemble them just standing together at the end of the driveway of their rented vacation home. As the title suggests, the family is threatened by versions of themselves. But they are somewhat feral versions of them, most of whom only communicate with animalistic howls. The one resembling the mother speaks with the strained whisper of someone fighting through severe laryngitis.

So great is the set-up of Us that once the concept is all laid out, it's disappointing to settle into what is a fairly conventional, albeit heady horror movie. These doppelgangers wear red and carry golden scissors, the image on which the film has been marketed. Who are they? Why are they here? What do they want? These are questions the film takes its time to answer, but in the meantime it's pitting our good-natured protagonists against these unsettling versions of themselves in bloody death battles.

This would be the main event of a lesser horror film and though it constitutes a significant chunk of the two-hour runtime, there is gladly more to Us than just good people trying not to die at the hands of evil beings who look like them. There isn't the timely racial context of Get Out and nor is there anything of similar weight to find here, which means we probably shouldn't expect Peele's second movie to be the Oscar force his previous one was. But that doesn't mean there is a shortage of substance or atmosphere to appreciate, with a strong ending and clever final act twist going a long way to enhance the experience.

Jordan Peele's "Us" stars Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong'o as Adelaide Wilson, a matriarch and heroine whose traumatic experiences with doppelgangers date back to her childhood.

Peele has a bigger budget to work with here, which may explain why songs from the Beach Boys and N.W.A.
feature prominently in one central stretch. It's another song, though, the 1990s jam "I Got Five on It" by Luniz, which, as in the trailer, features in a car ride as a topic of conversation and is later reprised in an unsettling violin version in the climax.

As on his debut, Peele has a disarming amount of craft at his disposal. He again uses to it good effect. He just doesn't have as strong and interesting an idea for us to chew upon here as Get Out. And so we get a well-made, above-average genre effort that doesn't quite have the watershed appeal of Get Out or even last year's horror hit A Quiet Place.

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Reviewed March 22, 2019.



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