Horror films seem to be enjoying a bit of a resurgence in Hollywood of late. Works like Get Out and A Quiet Place have shown in recent years that not only can horror movies slay at the box-office, but they can also be critical darlings. This week, Get Out director Jordan Peele drops Us, his much anticipated follow-up to his popular 2017 directorial debut. In this latest outing, Peele ups the ante in his story-telling, bringing his traditionally clever writing to put his own spin on a traditional horror plot.
Us follows the Wilson family as they take a well deserved summer vacation in coastal California. However, the tranquility of the break is soon shattered by a strange and brutal home invasion. Just what is going on? We here at Geek Girl Authority are attempting to keep this spoiler-free… so that’s all you’re getting kids! The film stars Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex. Jordan Peele directs the movie from his own script.
Us enters the box-office this weekend with a crazy amount of pressure. As mentioned above, the horror film is Peele’s much heralded follow-up to his Academy Award winning directorial debut Get Out in 2017. Will he continue to stand out? Or is there potential for the dreaded “sophomore slump”? When Us debuted at SXSW, the critical praise was immediate. In fact, the feature held an impressive 100% on Rotten Tomatoes for a lengthy period after its debut, and is still showing at an impressive 94%. Will the film live up to the hype? Well, it’s looking like the raves should continue.
Can we all take a moment to acknowledge one thing? Lupita Nyong’o is queen. This is her world, and frankly we’re all just living in it. The still young actress is soaring right now and in her portrayal of the layered and complicated Adelaide Wilson, she brings her star persona to a whole new stratosphere. Adelaide is more than merely a “final girl”; rather, she’s a likable, relatable and fully formed human. When you add in her dual role as “Red”… wow. Nyong’o reaches new levels. While the actress already established herself as a true talent, her work in Us shows just how much more she brings as a performer. Nyong’o’s chameleon likability to lose herself in the roles is truly fascinating to watch and will hopefully see her recognized as the year continues.
Marvel acolytes might recognize actor Winston Duke from his role in Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War. The actor is very much a newcomer to Hollywood, but in his take on husband and father Gabe Wilson, he establishes himself as a force to be reckoned with. He takes incredibly well to the inherent humor in the script and truly makes the part his own. Expect to see a lot more of this delightful and burgeoning actor in the coming years. He’s definitely on his way up.
Ultimately, the biggest problem with Us comes deep into the third act. In fact, it’s so deep that it’s virtually impossible to discuss the problems in a spoiler-free review. While the first 2 and 3/4 acts are tightly wound, beautifully executed and ridiculously scary, the film struggles a bit to find its natural ending point, making the pacing a bit of a slog towards the finale.
Furthermore, Peele (or a studio executive with note giving power) makes the decision to clearly explain the twist (spoilers, sweetie!). The construction of the reveal not only halts the narrative, but also sees the punch of the horror plummet in these final sequences. Would it have been scarier had the script not over-explained the plot? Potentially. However, horror is as subjective of a genre as you get, so everyone will have different perspectives.
Despite this, Us is incredibly well-constructed and almost flawlessly executed through most of the story. Peele brings his well honed stylistic eye, crafting an enjoyable mix of terror and humor. His knack for tone combines with the strength of all the performances, making the horror hit that much harder. The Wilson family are incredibly rich and likable characters and as things shoot out of control, you legitimately care for them. You want them to get out of this alive.
Once again, Peele constructs a complex and fascinating story, establishing himself (if he hasn’t already) as one of the smartest and most interesting writers currently working in Hollywood. Like his Oscar winning screenplay for Get Out, there are a tremendous amount of narrative flourishes at play in Us. In fact, it feels difficult to catch everything about it in a single viewing. Metaphors about duality, references to Hands Across America and well-constructed allegories are often tough to truly appreciate the first time through, making it definitely worthy of a second viewing. While it is early in the year, it’s conceivable we’ll see this script rearing its head come the return of awards season.
Us came out of SXSW a critical darling with reviews a director can only dream about. While the movie is not perfect, the talented cast and crew combine to craft a tightly wound, but completely enjoyable horror film. Jordan Peele is quickly becoming a mainstay in the tricky genre, and I for one am looking forward to everything he has coming in the future.
Us is in theaters around the country today.