2019, R, 120mins.
Lupita Nyong'o as Adelaide Wilson / Winston Duke as Gabriel "Gabe" Wilson / Evan Alex as Jason Wilson / Shahadi Wright Joseph as Zora Wilson / Elisabeth Moss as Mrs. Tyler / Tim Heidecker as Mr. Tyler / Kara Hayward as Nancy
Written and directed by Jordan Peele
I can't think of a single other filmmaker in recent memory that has had as much of an unlikely career transition and meteoric rise in the industry as Jordan Peele.
He went from
writing and appearing in TV sketch comedy as part of the two-man group Key
and Peele with Keegan Michael Key and literally overnight became a member
of the directorial elite with his first feature film behind the camera in
2017's GET OUT, a horror thriller and
scathing piece of social commentary that netted Peele an Oscar win for
Best Screenplay as well as a slew of other nominations, including Best
GET OUT was one of the most talked about and seen genre films of
the last ten years, and marked a highly respected big screen director
debut for Peele, and after nabbing Academy Award gold for his efforts many
have been wondering since if he could create a sophomore effort with as
much creative punch.
Now comes his newest film US, which begs me to ask one simple question:
Peele a one-hit filmmaker wonder?
The short answer
(and after seeing his latest): Not at all.
Perhaps more so
than the audience and critical darling in GET OUT, US is much more focused
on being a straight up horror film with a tad less emphasis on social
commentary, which is initially somewhat disappointing.
Still, Peele has crafted one humdinger of an infectious premise
with his latest fright-fest that has echoes of some of the more classic
and memorable episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (which, incidentally, Peele is
quarterbacking a reboot of).
That's not to say, though,
that US doesn't have any thematic ambition at all with its frankly
With GET OUT Peele crafted a darkly funny, yet thoroughly
disturbing dissection of race relations in America, whereas with US he's
dabbling into ideas of American identity, duality, and the negative
effects of marginalizing those we see as different and/or unworthy.
Peele's second film doesn't quite feel as fluidly polished as his
rookie effort, but with US he nevertheless demonstrates what a natural
directing talent he is at delivering intriguing setups and intoxicating
viewers into every nightmarish turn his story then takes.
specifically into plot particulars will prove to be challenging here,
seeing as relaying too much would lead to wanton spoilers.
All you basically need to know about the central narrative arc is
this: After an undeniably chilling to the bone prologue set in 1986 that
features an extremely traumatizing event for the main character when she
was a child while at a creepy amusement part attraction in Santa Cruz, US
flashes forward to the present day when the same person, Adelaide (an
intensely strong Lupita Nyong'o) is about to embark on a much needed
vacation with her loyal and loving husband Gabe (BLACK
PANTHER's Winston Duke) and their two children, Zora (Shahadi
Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex) at their summer home (located near,
yup, that aforementioned amusement park).
One night their home is invaded by a freakish family unit of four,
and once they reveal themselves Adelaide, Gabe, and the kids discover to
their absolute shock that these invaders are...exact duplicates of them
that are about to make their lives very, very intolerable for
the next 90 minutes or so of the running time.
Again, that's all
I'm going to say about the specific story trajectory of US, other than to
say that Adelaide and her family will go through a living hell trying to
fend off the attacks of the vile and mostly monosyllabic doppelgangers,
all of whom act like unthinking, bloodthirsty, and zombified monsters.
Compellingly, only one of the evil family members is able to speak,
Adelaide's sadistic twin, but she mostly enunciates through what is
perceived to be a throat injury.
One thing that Peele does with exceedingly empowered proficiency is
to impart his film with great personalities and giving them all colorful
dialogue exchanges that helps the frightening elements of the film go down
that much more easily (so many other horror thrillers engage in witless
and dime-a-dozen obligatory dialogue that just relays expositional
particulars, so it's always refreshing to witness Peele transcend such
Also, he shows what an absolute master he is at concocting
individual sequences of nail biting Hitchcockian suspense that fosters
such an aura of escalating dread and anxiety of things to come for the
The home invasion in particular is as tightly edited and
exemplarily paced as anything I've seen lately, and you gain a great sense
of Peele reveling at joyously manipulating viewers in moments like this;
when the director is in his wheelhouse in sequences like this he's a
pretty unstoppable force and shows why he's the real deal.
Peele has also
assembled another grade-A cast, the four principles that comprise the
family having the tricky task of making each family unit (one good, one
evil) seem distinctively different from one another.
I liked how Duke is afforded opportunities to let his comic timing
and skills as a performer to shine through the inherent darkness of this
material, and seeing this dweeby father trying to makes sense of the
madness that surrounds him and his clan provides some of US's best source
of sustained laughs.
The film utterly belongs to Nyong'o and her fiery and deeply
committed dual performance that has to, on one hand, show Adelaide as a
deeply traumatized, yet ferociously determined and protective material
figure that will stop at nothing to ensure the survival of her husband and
She also has great fun portraying this woman's psychopathic twin,
whose raspy voiced inflections and lust for all things mayhem and murder
makes her so devilishly and unpredictably scary throughout the film.
A great actress would be lucky to pull of one sensational
performance in a film, but Nyong'o gives two here.
Despite all of
the greatness that Peele and his consummate acting ensemble bring to the
proceedings here, there's simply no shaking the fact that US does have its
share of nagging issues that holds it back from achieving true masterful
film is like a beguiling and layered onion that requires attentive viewers
to constantly peel and dig towards its center for multiple interpreted
meanings, which is a trait I generally love.
I'm a man that appreciates films that are hard to decipher enigmas
and thematic Rubik's Cubes that places trust in viewers to solve after
The main problem with US is that Peele's fantastically successful
opening few acts gives way to a disappointing final 20-30 minutes, during
which time he lays all of his storytelling cards on the table and leaves
very little unexplained.
There's a moment in the climax when hero and villain confront one
another and the latter goes out of her way to provide an unnecessarily
thorough explanation of the extraordinary events that have been
transpiring in the film.
A hypnotic freak-out experience like US would have greatly
benefited from a less is more approach as it wrapped itself up towards a
conclusion; there's very little haunting ambiguity going on here when we
grow to learn how everything happened.
And at the risk of going into mild spoilers, US culminates with a late breaking plot twist that, upon modest scrutiny, doesn't seem to logically hold up very well. That, and it felt like a tacked on and redundant cheat, if you ask me. Now, not all plot twists need to make pitch perfect sense, mind you, but the one Peele drums up here never feels completely earned or justified. Added to that is the notion that the director also seems to be adhering to - as he did to disappointing effect in the climax of GET OUT - the very overused and dry horror thriller troupes that he's obviously trying very hard to subvert and transcend (i.e. - characters making stupid decisions about leaving safe areas to explore dangerous ones, and often on their own). But, seriously, it's very hard for me to dismiss US: It's a solid companion piece and inspired spiritual sequel to GET OUT, and as an inventive, assured and well oiled exercise in genre filmmaking, Peele has most certainly defied any sophomore jinxes. Despite some creative hiccups on his part, Peele certainly has earned his early silver screen career reputation for being an alluring provocateur with each new film.
To me, this guy's just getting warmed up.
MY CTV REVIEW: