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‘Us’ (review by Kristen Halbert)

Produced by Jason Blum, Ian Cooper,
Sean McKittrick, Jordan Peele

Written and Directed by Jordan Peele
Starring Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke,
Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker,
Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex,
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Anna Diop

 

When your first feature film writes a new lane for the elevated horror genre, it can be hard to keep up the pace.

After the groundbreaking Get Out, audiences have certainly built up serious expectations for writer & director Jordan Peele’s second movie, Us.

The first delved into deeper themes of race and privilege which underscored the unnerving premise. Us is more of a straightforward sendup of a psychological thriller; a longform Twilight Zone that is creepy and clever but perhaps a little light on the societal critiques that made Peele’s previous movie such a standout.

The Wilsons are out to enjoy an all-American family vacation in Santa Cruz, California, but mother Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) cannot shake a sense of dread stemming from a childhood incident in a funhouse at the same seaside destination.

Soon, the entire family shares in her feeling as a mysterious family in red appears at their home one evening. Dread turns to terror as the night goes on, with survival becoming the only goal of their trip.

There is always something jarring about the same actor being the hero and the villain. It speaks to being confronted with the darkest version of yourself, and fearing that you may not be able to best them. Nyong’o turns in two amazing performances as Adelaide and the rasping, murderous Red. Each is a woman possessed in multiple ways. On one hand, there is the need to protect one’s family at any cost. On the other, the desire to break free. They intertwine and overlap in ways that will leave you musing and mulling well after leaving the theater. Both driving forces deliver powerful scares that come about elegantly amidst the blood and screams.

But there are almost as many laughs as there are screams throughout the film, mainly from Winston Duke, who expertly oozes dad-joke charm and cautious husband one-liners that add levity in places you would not expect. Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker bring comedy and chills in supporting roles, while the Wilson children (Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex) are equally strong as hunter and hunted. Every character has purpose but there are a few muddy areas and nagging threads that are not tied up as neatly as one would hope, knowing what Peele is capable of. The third act trades the satisfaction of a thriller for the vague frustration of a theme that struggles with being too broad to rein in.

The largest flaw in the movie is the specter of the one before. The endless social commentary that followed Get Out primed audiences to look for signs and clues to larger societal themes. Even though Us is a terrific thriller and all-around great outing that led to many theater lobby discussions, there was the sense that the genre was not approached in a significantly novel way.

Instead, we received something that was interesting and rare in a more general sense: a solid and well-acted horror film.

 

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