“Us” is the highly anticipated film from Jordan Peele that had its world premiere at this month’s SXSW film festival. Starring Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Evan Alex and Shahadi Wright Joseph, the story follows a family on vacation that find themselves being terrorized by their demented doppelgangers. Now it isn’t easy to follow-up a massive critical success in a directorial debut, with another film that could potentially garner the same praise. However, I think that is what Jordan Peele could be sitting on with this follow-up. Because it was simply put, awesome, creepy, intelligent, twisted, and loads of fun.
It was a perfect blend of horror, psychological thriller, and dark comedy. Together these elements fit nicely into one fluid narrative that took me on a haunting ride with endless amounts of sinister appeal. The plot-line in concept is grounded. It isn’t hard to put yourself in the position of this family to imagine what you would do in their situation. This created a genuine engagement that made watching how the story unfolded feel much more compelling. The first-act sets the stage for the main concept of the plot with a section of a flashback to this haunting night involving a little girl. It gives the viewer something to think about in the back of their mind as the tone shifts to meeting this seemingly normal family.
Their dynamics are common to many families and the chemistry between them was appealing. Their personalities felt down-to-earth which made them easy to connect with. The dialogue was smooth with a charming sense-of-humor which landed some solid laughs. But all the while you can feel something dark and foreboding looming in the backdrop and it was effective in creating subtle but consistent uneasiness. It kept me on edge constantly. Waiting for something to happen despite the atmosphere of the movie being somewhat light in tone early on which complemented the tension in a fresh way.
We learn just enough about the characters to get a sense of who they are and how their family dynamics are structured. Then the story takes an instant turn and the mood drops into darkness. The atmosphere instantly switches to a very ominous one as the families tethered twins make their appearance. And from that minute the tension shoots up and doesn’t waver for the rest of the run-time. The scenes that progress from there were equally as frightening as they were steeped in curiosity as to what was happening. This is where Peele shined with his writing and direction by weaving a story that was haunting and eerie, but at the same time thought-provoking and fascinating.
The progression of the narrative was unpredictable. It took some appealing turns and created suspenseful home-invasion sequences as well as pure flights for survival. The character tropes are delivered in a seemingly routine package, but throughout the story their arcs are routinely swapped. Certain members of the family are relied on for things to keep them all alive and it was refreshing to see some of the tropes switched up. I thought this added a ton of enjoyment to the already unique premise and gave the entire film a fresh vibe. I don’t want to go into spoilers by speaking too much on the doppelgangers in the film, but I will say the overall concept was inventive. They fit perfectly into the story to hit with frightening impact. And this element of the movie could not have been done without the excellent cast performances.
The focal characters all had to play two versions of their roles and each one of them knocked it out of the park. Lupita Nyong’o was amazing. She captured both sides of her role to perfection. As a normal mother protecting her kids, she hit all the emotion and intensity needed to root for her success. As her dark and twisted twin, she was even better with a haunting performance that I think is award worthy. I think Nyong’o is what makes this movie. She was eerie, unpredictable, and just what this story needed in a demented protagonist. The other bright spots in the cast were easily the performances of young Evan Alex, and Shahadi Wright Joseph. These roles required of lot of range from them and it was impressive to see both pull off every needed angle of their characters with precision.
Peele’s direction was excellent. It was artistic and ambitious. I think he showed an inspired eye behind the camera to craft a fantastic horror film. The production design and his methodical camera work blended together with a strong use of lighting and angles to build imposing scenes without the need for jump-scares. The horror was in the writing just as much as it was in the visual appeal and together the result was a success. It plants the seeds for ideas and then in the final act explores these concepts more to create a world of thought. Some of these layers could have been built a little sooner in the film but it was still structured enough in the closing act to not feel rushed.
Overall, I had a great time during this movie. It was a blend of genres, but the focus was always on the horror. It was a movie that made you think about the big picture of the story-lines setting. The second-act did linger just a bit, however it was very minor. Also, some of the attempts at humor felt miss-timed but nothing to the extent of being distracting because everything else shined. It was filled with natural characters that were able to accomplish pulling off evil versions of themselves with ease. And with Jordan Peele both writing and directing, the tone of the story never lost its intention of being subtly horrific.
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