Well, Jordan Peele was able to beat the mediocre freshman directorial debut cliche, so if anyone can stump the sophomore slump it’s him.
“Us” is the second feature from writer-director Jordan Peele, following his Oscar-winning start with “Get Out” in 2017. It follows a family (Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex) as they are targeted by a group of doppelganger assailants. Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker also star.
When I first saw “Get Out,” I found it to be a good-not-great horror film that maybe bit off more than it could chew. Upon six (!) rewatches, however, I have come to realize Peele had just created a multi-layered screenplay with hidden codes and verbal keys, and one watch just wasn’t enough to see the actual brilliance. And I’m not saying “Us” is another award-worthy turn from Peele, but I already know I need another viewing to see if my hindsight theories are correct. For what it’s worth, I like it about as much as my first round of “Get Out.”
What people will surely praise here are the performances of Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke, who play not only their real human parents but also the doppelgangers. Nyong’o is often quiet and timid as a result of a past trauma, but has moments of shouting when pushed to her limits and, as her double, conveys suppressed pain. Duke has lots of chances to flex his charisma and almost dry humor, as well as some physical displays as the doppelganger.
Peele’s script isn’t meant to hold a mirror to society about race like “Get Out,” but instead hold a mirror to ourselves and see that our demons are our own worst enemy. The trailer for the film does give away a few early twists, but overall Peele is able to keep the falling dominos coming. Much like “Get Out” (not to keep comparing the two), the ending of this film creates a lot of questions and requires more viewings. Time will have to tell if these are plot holes or just another layered craft.
This film is both more “jokey” and scarier than “Get Out,” and sometimes the humor comes at the expense of a tense sequence. A few of the jokes land and act as levity, but more than one scary scene was compromised by a dad joke at the wrong time. There is also one scene with distractingly bad effects; since Nyong’o can’t be in two places at once, they seemingly green-screened her in and the outline on her figure and the flat background draw the viewer’s attention away.
The more “Us” sits with me in the two hours since the credits rolled, the more I think I like it. It certainly is an original horror film yet again by Peele, who hopefully doesn’t get typecast as “the horror guy” (he spoke about how he feared repeating himself in comedy), and I think that while it may be a tad divisive toward audiences, it will age better than most horror films. I look forward to seeing it again and hope that Peele’s third film continues his streak of defeating tropes and cliches.
Critic’s rating: 7 out of 10.