“Stick with me and I’ll keep you safe. Okay?”
Story: Adelaide Wilson does not like the beach in Santa Cruz. Why would she, when a terrifying event happened to her back in ’86? But now she’s grown with kids of her own; time to go back to grammy’s (now her) beach house! Hubby Gabe thinks everything’s hunky-dory, and it is. Well, until it’s not. Who’s that in the driveway?
Genre I’d put it in: Twilight Zone-esque Horror
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: Basically an original but…according to Peele himself, it’s based on the Twilight Zone episode “Mirror Image”. And no, I didn’t know that ’til right now, after I searched Wiki to see if this one was an original.
Gotta say: Idris Elba. Michael Sheen. Sean Bean. Y’all need to make a bit of room. Because I have a new movie crush, and his name is Winston Duke. Yes he’s awesome (and hilarious) as M’Baku in the MCU, but here in Us, he gives the best “Oh, Dad” dad ever. EVER. Walking that fine line between over-the-top and every real-life dad that’s too much, Duke owns this role. He even went for the dad bod. I tip my hat to you sir.
Now about the movie itself. Whoa it’s a lot. Writer/Director Jordan Peele throws a ton of stuff at the wall in this film, and every single bit of it sticks. Okay sometimes it’s a bit messy, with acts that blend into each other at such a frenetic pace that the usual second act climax just feels like more of what’s been happening from the jump. But Us is an amazing collection of themes, ideas and messages, wrapped up in a plot that’s heavy on the Twilight Zone vibe while being wholly its own thing. In fact, consider this film an apéritif for Peele’s reboot of that television show coming next month.
Peele’s story is an ambitious one, as it deals with ideas of our hidden selves, socioeconomic disparity, how we deal with our past, our place in humanity, and so much more. Why’d I just punk out at the end of that last sentence? Because with Us, while there will be several ideas that stick with you, each viewer may have several more that will feel just as apt. This is the kind of story that will linger with you, as you re-examine bits and pieces before you drift off to sleep. Which probably isn’t the best idea for those of you who are light touches when it comes to horror; Us also packs lots of scares, and doesn’t shy away from the red stuff.
I have a few quibbles though. There’s so much packed into this story it’s tough to keep up, and tougher to let unanswered questions slide. As filmgoers, we’re use to answers, or at least hints. But Peele gives no quarter, allowing the confusion to turn to disorientation, then to dread. Would I have liked more information on what the hell was going on? Absolutely. Did I need that information to become invested? Absolutely not. And while nine times out of ten Peele’s blend of humor and horror hits the mark, there are a few scenes that drew laughs when fear was probably the desired response. Can’t have it all, I guess.
Us hits you like a freight train, so be prepared for a rush of ideas hitting you all at once. Everything means something in this film. I’m not just talking about symbolism, I’m talking about props, settings, and even the music. (The score and soundtrack is impressive, with what has to be the best use of NWA’s “Fuck Tha Police” ever.) Hair and make-up goes overtime in helping to tell the story, with natural looks for Adelaide, her family and friends, juxtaposed with clammy, ashen makeup for the “Tethered”. Which reminds me; the performances here are absolutely incredible. Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, and Evan Alex not only deliver lived-in performances as the Winstons, but they give excellent creep as their terrifying doppelgangers. Elizabeth Moss is wonderfully hilarious as Adelaide’s buddy, stereotypical drunken W.A.S.P. Kitty Tyler, and gets to let her comedic chops shine…and that’s all I’ll say about that. Y’all have seen the teaser. You know that except for Moss’s outstanding performance, it’s not gonna be good for Kitty.
But honestly? As compelling as each performance is, it’s Nyong’o who steals the show. She runs the gamut from sweet to terrified, bloodthirsty to loving, and everything in-between. Theater and film students should watch this simply to see a master class in channeling your character. It’s that good. Bonus? Seeing Duke’s 110% suburban Gabe Wilson “go thug” when he tries to scare the “Tethered” away. Thank you, Jordan Peele, for inserting these moments of humor into what otherwise would have been a film too intense to really sink into. And thank you for this crazy ride of a film. I may have walked away not knowing everything you wanted to say, but damn if I didn’t hang on every second.
#ProTip: “Therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them.” – Jeremiah 11:11 (Did you just get chills? Because I just got chills.)