Written and Directed by Jordan Peele
Starring Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, and Tim Heidecker
Reber’s Rating: A+
Oh, Jordan Peele. You sly trickster. First you bring us laughter with your antics on both MadTV and Key & Peele. Then you decide you not only wanted to write movies but direct your own works as well. Your very first film, the critically-lauded Get Out, was billed as a horror movie but was so much more than that. A dash of horror, a sprinkle of comedic wit, and all sorts of social commentary swirled into your masterful debut. Then you make your follow-up film look even more demented by following a vacationing family stalked by their doppelgangers, red jumpsuits and gold scissors and I got fffiiivvvveeee on it. Based on the aforementioned, Jordan Peele’s pedigree is already cemented and there’s good reasons why he was given the keys to lead a reboot of The Twilight Zone. Peele is more Rod Serling than M. Night Shyamalan.
Us may seem like a gripping and suspenseful horror flick, brimming with chaos and rampage and bloodshed with danger lurking everywhere, our characters facing catastrophe from the get-go. Then again, for the majority of you who’ve watched Get Out, then you know what sort of ride awaits. Listen people – if the trailers for Us gave you the heebie jeebies, then good. Congratulations. That’s the art of misdirection at play. Sure, there are moments in Us that are downright nightmarish and distressing. If you go into the theater expecting to watch a horror movie, boy oh boy are you going to feel bamboozled. Us is a taut and riveting topical thriller, with splashes of gore and humor for good measure, unafraid to show the darker side of humanity in a tale that asks us to explore who the real villains are in our surroundings.
Us. The real villains would be us.
Now, if you didn’t get take that away from the first couple of trailers, then the fault is on you. The real terror in Jordan Peele’s Us isn’t how murderous and devilishly twisted the doppelgangers are in their methods. The fanatics cloaked in red are feral and fiendish, yet focused. I actually expected to be scared out of my skin as the lights dimmed. I remember my childhood, Freddy Kruger and Jason Voorhees haunting my closed eyes as a child in the late 1980’s. Instead of being stricken with terror, I was pleasantly surprised by the oft-times funny yet troubling Us. I’ve felt that horror films today play to the almighty dollar, with studios chickening out and cutting thematic material to obtain a PG-13 rating, while others go for cheap boo-scares, often leaving you wanting more. To see a horror film embrace a lively ambiance, the adult characters cracking wise when they’re petrified, reminded me of 2012’s Cabin In The Woods. That film, a horror/comedy hybird, is still one of this century’s finest horror films.
The stark realization that we are our own worst enemy is what cues the creep factor. What if your best friends, those you love, were not as you perceived? The darker side of our souls, where morality takes a back seat for heinous pleasures, is where real terror festers. Jordan Peele succeeds in showing audiences we turn into what we fear most, even if we’re killing ourselves in the process. Peele is able to really jumpinto the deep end, writing a narrative that highlights what makes us the most vulgar and ugly deep down. Think about today’s America. We all hide behind masks, those who think they’re the heroes are really the villains and vice versa. We’ve become a nation with bullish attitudes. We think we’re right and take everyone – hell, everything – for granted. We’re overly reliant on technology. Oh, having our homes tethered with the Internet to control the lights and make phone calls in times of distress, that will make us feel safe and sound at night, right?
We can hide within the guarded walls of our homes. We can immerse our gaze into our smartphones, pop in our earbuds and drown out the world around us. We can become totally oblivious to our environment around us. Jordan Peele makes a very valid point with his commentary in Us. Each of us hides our true selves behind a mask. The ugliness that dwells deep within us cannot be contained, especially in America at this very moment. Us demonstrates what happens to one when we’re forced to confront our demons. Figuratively we have blood on our hands, no matter what mask we choose to adopt, but we can decide how we wish to live. We can suppress our feelings but when the sun sets and the moon rises only we know who we really are deep down inside of our souls.
Social commentary aside, I have to give more props to Peele as both a writer and director. The film does move about at a steady pace, leaving you enough room to expect a quick jump out of your seat. Peele instead utilizes those moments of silence to allow you to breathe in the surroundings. The film rides squarely on Lupita Nyong’o’s shoulders from start to finish, her main character Adelaide aware a darkness has chased her since her youth. Much like Brie Larson in Captain Marvel, Nyong’o carries the more emotional depth of Peele’s story. Adelaide remembers getting lost at a carnival as a child, Hands Across America etched on her shirt, staring her shadow in the face. The shadow smiled back. Like any child, Adelaide repressed her memories for as long as she could, yet she dotes over her children to ensure they never endure the same panic she did years before. What would you do when you have to confront your nightmares physically in the face?
Winston Duke, however, will become more a national treasure following Us. You’ll know him better as the brazen and surly M’Baku from both Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War. Duke has a natural talent for comedy, though, a part of his repertoire no one’s seen prior. Winston Duke runs off with the spotlight in every scene he can, rocking a dad bod as he tries to portray the lumbering frame of a fighter. In reality, Duke’s fatherly Gabe is more like the Cowardly Lion, feeling absolutely incredulous as events unfold around him and serving as the comedic relief. Every badass woman needs a man like Gabe by her side, a man of good intentions who just wants to catch a break. He would rather stand and fight – though he’s more of the type of guy who would rather sit back and let pandemonium settle down before running.
By the film’s conclusion, the riffs of Minnie Ripperton overtaking the theater in a twisted happy yet ominous glee, you come to realize Us isn’t the horror film the trailers painted for the last few months. Not by a long shot. You’ll walk out under the impression you understand the ending, but do you? Can you seriously ask yourself if you’re sure of who people really are on the inside? Does Jeremiah 11:11, the Bible verse flashed throughout the film, any more clearer? Peele pours a bevy of heavy commentary and introspective heart into the core of Us. Peele isn’t trying to up the ante in the horror genre. If anything, his love for The Twilight Zone has allowed him to forge a film that will stick with you well after the movie ends. Us is the type of movie that will entertain you for two hours but continue asking questions afterwards. Keep it up, Peele. Comedy may be what got you started but your ability to tell terrorizing tales is where your future truly lies.