Mar 25, 2019
We’re back today with a film I’ve been waiting to see since the second I finished my first viewing of “Get Out” (Episode #448). I did my very best to avoid all trailers (after the first one because I couldn’t help myself), and to avoid reading any specific reviews or assessments. It was how I ended up walking into “Get Out”, and it always seemed like the right way to do it.
On to the review!
Today’s movie is “Us” (2019), the social thriller written, directed, and produced by Jordan Peele. The film follows Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o), and her family on a summer vacation to Santa Cruz, California. After an emotional day at the beach, they return home, and are attacked during the night by a family of doppelgangers in red jump suits. And then things get really weird.
No spoilers, but I am going to reference parts of the film available in trailers as presented. If you want a completely fresh experience, go to the theater now.
Second films are tough. On the one hand, you can ride that wave of hype all the way to opening night, as the upwards of $70 million at the box office this weekend will gladly attest. On the other hand, you will also have a subset of the fans who will have impossible expectations, and no shortage of haters looking for any reason to criticize your next work. You need to capitalize on everything you did right. You need to go bigger, but not too big. Just big enough to make sure they want the next one. You gotta show that you aren’t a one-trick pony, and that there is a well of ideas ready for exploration. And all eyes are on you.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that “Us” is probably one of the most anticipated films in recent years. And let’s face it, when your first film is an undisputed gem like “Get Out”, which earns you a Best Original Screenplay Oscar, and ends up being the biggest thing to happen to the horror genre in decades... well, what do you even do for a follow-up? Apparently you do a deeply introspective look at childhood trauma and hidden natures that expands into a larger social narrative, and on a much larger scale than the viewer might expect.
If “Get Out” was a film about a new perspective, then “Us” is a film about twisting perspectives, especially in the light of new information presented to the viewer. The trailer itself is full of brilliant misdirection, laying out the path for the film without much of a hint about the deeper story behind Adelaide’s past. The film opens with an extended scene from Adelaide’s childhood, which answers some preliminary questions while asking quite a few others, along with an almost non-sequitur opening credits scene. It does a nice job of launching us right into the story while fueling the curiosity of what’s to come, and how all the trailer clips will fall into the overall story. And along the way, we slowly begin accepting the increasing madness around Adelaide. Lupita Nyong’o takes center stage as Adelaide, building off the emotion of her past, and extending that fear into her present day concerns as a mother returning to a place of trauma.
Another notable difference between “Get Out” and “Us” is the scope of the film. In “Get Out”, one feels like they’re zeroing in on the mystery, out in a relatively remote part of the country. In “Us”, one feels like the mystery continues to grow around them, and expands beyond the confines of the property line. It’s an interesting way to meet a number of second movie challenges, and I think Peele does it very well and in an uncompromising manner. I mean, he wrote and directed “Get Out”, he gets to strut and pirouette if he wants to. Each twist in “Us” forces the viewer to re-examine their assumptions, and by the time we reach the end, we’ve come to a lot of different conclusions. It’s not a film for hot takes.
The entire Wilson family, including Winston Duke as father Gabe, Shahadi Wright Joseph as daughter Zora, and Evan Alex as son Jason, does a nice job with their dual roles as their doppelgangers. The obvious metaphors for hidden natures and the difference between our private and public faces are abundant throughout the film, central to the overall premise on a personal level. The film is also abundant with social metaphors, including the ongoing division between political beliefs, the immense disparity between the haves and the have nots, and a not-so-obvious look at the prison/industrial complex, discussion of which is sadly impossible to remain spoiler free.
Now, is this film better than “Get Out”? Absolutely not. Few films will ever be better than “Get Out”, and if that’s the scale on which to judge this film, then I would never give out another 10 in my life. But is “Us” still a great film? Absolutely, one of the best I’ve seen in a while, and one that will be the subject of much discussion and debate, about real and perceived meaning, and most importantly, how to do a second film when the first one leaves unrealistic expectations, and without compromising your vision in the process. No question there will be more films to come from Jordan Peele, and I’m already excited for the next one.
“Us” is a story of twisted expectations, beginning in a very personal space and ending in a most unexpected place. Jordan Peele creates another excellent horror film that challenges both our perspectives and our expectations, with his usual uncompromising vision. If you loved “Get Out”, then you’ll love this one, as long as you’re willing to see just how deep the rabbit hole goes.
Rotten Tomatoes: 94% (CERTIFIED FRESH)
Metacritic: 81 (MUST SEE)
One Movie Punch: 10/10
“Us” (2019) is rated Rand is currently playing in theaters.