Reel Reviews | Us

by Charles Kirkland

The movie event of the spring is here as Jordan Peele returns with a new nightmare called Us.

As a child, Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) suffered an incident on the beach of Santa Cruz that has left her permanently scarred.  Now as an adult, years later, her family consisting of a geeky husband Gabe (Winston Duke), moody daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and playful son Jason (Evan Alex) unknowingly return to the scene and come face to face with an unthinkable horror in the form of another family that looks and acts just like them and wants to take their lives, both literally and figuratively. 

Us is the second movie written, directed and produced by Jordan Peele of Key and Peele fame.  Although this is Peele’s second movie, there is no sign of a sophomore slump.  Peele’s vision and direction is stellar and makes him worthy of the high praise and consideration unseen since the early work of M. Night Shyamalan.  Peele continues to inject intelligence, life, and breath into the horror genre that is unmatched since the days of Hitchcock.  Us and his previous work Get Out have been smart, psychological thrillers that not only cause the viewers to be confronted with very real fears and biases but also leave the audience with the room to mull over the themes long after they have left the theater. 

The true genius of this movie is that it almost demands that viewers see the movie a second (or maybe even third time) in order to unfold the various layers of information that is hidden in plain sight of the movie.  While the movie has many horror aspects, it plays more like an intense and complicated audition reel for the new Twilight Zone series of which Peele will be hosting later this year.  Peele also finds creative ways to inject the twisted and dark humor that he honed to perfection while directing various sketches on his Comedy Central television show.

While Peele engages in serious next level scriptwriting, the truest excellence of execution in this film lies in the performance of Lupita Nyong’o.  It feels entirely too early to be talking about Oscar-caliber work at this time of the year but, Ms. Nyong’o truly has to be considered for the level of acting that she submits here.  The depth and complexity of her performance in this movie are clearly superior to what she did for which she received an Academy Award in 2013 (12 Years A Slave).  If just taken on the surface, her work in playing Adelaide and her doppelganger is convincingly frightening and emotional but much like the film, there are so many layers to her performance that are truly only glimpsed at the completion of the film and begs the viewers to return to the theater.

Conversely, Winston Duke (Black Panther) in the role of Gabe is almost embarrassingly inept and purposefully monotone.  The commanding power that was M’Baku in Black Panther is completely absent in this film.  Gabe is goofy and at times weak but is the perfect appendage to Adelaide in the function of the family.  Duke’s performance is so totally and genuinely different from anything he has done before that it becomes a credit to his acting ability as well.

Jordan Peele must also be credited with inspired direction and cinematography of Us.  He makes excellent use of lighting and framing, placing his character squarely in the center of the screen and forcing emotional and intellectual connections to his actors through their expressive wide eyed-stares, teary glances, and facial ticks.  Yet when he opens the scenes, he fills each shot with so much visual information that the viewers often miss what they are seeing until it is already ended.  (Another reason to go back and see the movie again!) 

Us is rated R for violence, terror, and language and it has those things as any good horror movie should, however, this movie transcends the genre.  It is easily the most engaging and entertaining movie event of the year for audiences.  It is a visual masterpiece that rivals its predecessor in pure energy and excitement.  It must be seen and seen and seen. 

Grade: A