JORDAN PEELE GIVES “US” WHAT IS ALREADY ONE OF THE YEARS BEST FILMS IN HIS INSANELY CREATIVE SOPHOMORE WRITER & DIRECTOR EFFORT
“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)
If you don’t know the name Jordan Peele, come this weekend you will. Jordan Peele best known as one half of the sketch comedy duo “Key & Peele”, co-writer and co-star of the hilarious action comedy “Keanu” and Oscar winner for Best Original Screenplay for his 2017 directorial debut “Get Out”. Peele returns with much anticipation in his sophomore writer/director effort “Us”, that premiered at the South By Southwest Film Festival to an ecstatic overwhelming positive praise.
Jordan Peele’s “Us” is insanely creative, a thrilling film that further showcases that Peele is a thoughtful and imaginative director with an undeniable talent for leveraging strong visuals, symbolism, and for creating stories that keep us unpacking all of the mysteries he lays throughout the film. It is a movie that causes debating once the end credits start rolling. “Us” brings a whole new level of visually stunning and profoundly disturbing cerebral terror, which actually surpasses “Get Out”. Jordan Peele has said that “In many ways, I think of Get Out as my Frankenstein and Us as my Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”. I’d say that’s a pretty fair description.
After a stunningly effective prologue set at the Santa Cruz boardwalk (Isn’t that the “Lost Boys” boardwalk?) in 1986 that has us already glued to our seats, we jump to the present day, with the Wilsons driving to the same Santa Cruz boardwalk for a family vacation. Lupita Nyong’o is Adelaide, an overprotective mom who is trying her best to relax and get in the spirit of the trip. Winston Duke is her husband, the amiable Gabe, a classic American father whose enthusiasm for the vacation and “dad jokes” have the kids rolling their eyes. Shahadi Wright Joseph is their teenage daughter Zora, who of course is always wearing ear buds and tethered to her phone. Evan Alex is young Jason, who appears to be on some kind of spectrum and often hides behind a Halloween mask.
One night, a family appears in the driveway. A family that’s a mirror image of the Wilsons only they’re all wearing red jumpsuits, wearing one glove and carrying long golden scissors. Adelaide’s doppelganger (called “Red”) speaks in a croaky voice, while Zora’s evil mirror image, has a sicko smile plastered on her face. Gabe’s “evil twin,” Abraham, has the guttural roar and plodding menace of “Frankenstein’s” monster or one of “Jurassic Park’s” Dinosaurs. And little Jason’s opposite, Pluto who wears a mask of his own, skitters about on all fours….This is the exact kind of movie that the less you know the more heightened your experience will be. So I will be extremely broad and end it there.
Peele’s film is above the standard slasher & stalker thriller, so every time someone goes back into the house, or walks toward the danger, or even something small like taking an escalator it actually makes sense. The Wilson family isn’t clueless or helpless. Each one of them is whip smart, as they’re fiercely determined to protect one another.
Directed with a feverish style, beautiful pacing, wickedly funny one liners and sight gags. As phenomenal as the work that Peele does, he owes a lot to his cast as the casting is spot on, as the actor’s make the Wilson’s an eminently likable family from the start. Once the horror kicks in, and they come face to face with their doppelgängers, known as “The Tethered”, the acting really becomes apparent, with each member of the family having to simultaneously play vulnerable and menacing as The Tethered. You want them to survive their encounter with The Tethered, which in a movie like this, it’s one of the most important things.
Headlining star Oscar winner for 2013’s “12 Years A Slave”. Lupita Nyongo who is one of the best actresses working today, gives a tour de force performance. Not only is “Us” one of the best horror films I have seen, since last years “Hereditary”. Lupita’s performance is right on par to Toni Collette’s performance in “Hereditary”. She shifts from heartwarming and gentle to terrifying and cruel in an instant. Duke is great as husband Gabe who is also the comic relief, he masks that animal side we saw in “Black Panther”. Peele gets and makes the most out of his cast.
Peele’s cinematographer Mike Gioulakis serves up a feast of arresting visuals, whether he is tracking along with a family member who is being chased, or in on the chase in dark corridors or outside in the bright of day. The music from Michael Abels ratchets up the tension and plays a recurring theme reminiscent of “The Omen”. The film’s symphonic score has a prominent emphasis on Orchestra strings that complements the onscreen suspense and surrealism. It is the perfect tour guide for the mad journey that Peele takes you on.
Peele being a fan of “The Twilight Zone”, to the extent that his TV reboot of the series premieres on CBS All Access next month. Peele modeled “Us” after an episode inspired by a classic episode of The “Twilight Zone” called Mirror Image, about smirking doppelgängers. Elements of “Us” carry echoes of the works of the greats: Hitchcock, Kubrick, John Carpenter and the one Peele name drops as an inspiration George Romero, but the immensely talented Peele also has a voice of his own and it shows in every scene and every detail he meticulously lays out. We are already eagerly anticipating the next work, and the next after that.
Like “Get Out” Peele’s “Us” offers sly social commentary on the American Dream. After all, the movie is called “Us,” as in “Us” as a family unit, but also “US” as in “USA”. Peele has made a disturbing American allegory, a cerebral thriller that does its own thing instead of eschewing to the trappings of the “art-house horror”. He disciplines his audience as far as the terror goes, with no cheap “jump” scares and using gore sparingly.
Jordan Peele is quickly becoming a contemporary Hitchcock, and not only does he prove that “Get Out” wasn’t a fluke, and proves he is indeed a growing horror mastermind. Everything is so tightly done with everything on the screen, every shot, the placement of every prop, body language, movement all being purposeful, smart, and perfectly executed. The amazing cinematography, a riveting score, tour de force acting from Lupita Nyongo and of course, Peele’s masterful direction in “Us” can be described as Peele’s “new nightmare”, or as I see it “a new modern classic”.
Peele explores the idea of human connection and the country’s lack of it. He gives us the ultimate tale of “We are our own worst enemy” scenario. There’s something thrilling about exiting a film and instantly wanting to see it again, not to mention it’s the ultimate compliment to the film. Be prepared to have passionate discussions with others once the film is over. I know it’s still early in the year but “Us” will be remembered come January 2020 as I compile my list of the best films of 2019.
GRADE: ★★★★★ (5 out 5)