SXSW 2019: US Review – Jordan Peele’s Latest Nightmare Delivers the Goods
Starring Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex
Written by Jordan Peele
Directed by Jordan Peele
This review may contain minor spoilers. Please read at your own risk.
“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
After 2016’s Get Out, the world watched with bated breath to see what writer/director Jordan Peele would do next. The film’s biting social commentary took audiences by storm, not to mention the importance of the lead being played by Daniel Kaluuya, a dark-skinned black man, an overall rarity in the grand scheme of horror, much less Hollywood in general. After accumulating a swath of nominations and awards, the impact and power of the film could not be denied. So when Us was announced and the world knew yet another terror would be descending upon us, the hype, as they say, was real.
The film follows the Wilson’s, your typical nuclear family (minus the dog), who go to their family cabin for a weekend retreat. What should be an idyllic time quickly turns to terror when their doppelgängers invade their home and victimize them one by one. As the events unfold, the scope of this nightmare quickly grows to almost unimaginable levels.
Immediately, what makes Us work is that the focus on the relationship of the family is paramount. Each character is fleshed out. Adelaide (Nyong’o) is strong, resilient, and tough as nails but you damn well better believe she is full of love for her family and has her own weaknesses tied to a childhood trauma that sees her clearly dealing with residual PTSD. Gabe (Duke) is the ultimate dad, cracking jokes that make his children groan with the greatest of glee. M’Baku might be sexy for his warrior strength but Duke’s portrayal of Gabe may very well make awkward dads the next Twitter thirst fad. Both children, Jason (Alex) and Zora (Joseph) have their own quirks and interests. And though they may have their own sibling rivalries, there is clearly a love between them that transcends it all. This is a family you will love, I promise you that. The have the type of genuine interactions that can best be compared to the Freeling family from Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist.
Furthermore, this family that is so easy to love is even more delightful in that they make, for the most part, smart decisions once shit hits the fan. They use their personal quirks as strengths to outwit their attackers. They don’t split up on their own but rather are driven apart and brought back together during events in the film that necessitate such events. Where most horror characters would walk away from an opportunity to end a villain and ensure their survival, the Wilson family makes damn certain that if they’re going to finish a job, it’ll be done right.
Apart from their spectacular performances as the Wilson family, each actor brings their respective doppelgänger to life with amazing precision and calculated brilliance. These aren’t simple mirror images, they’re something far more sinister and unsettling. However, to go into detail would be to give too much away.
While I adore the performances of each actor in Us, I would be completely remiss to not highlight the work of Lupita Nyong’o, who not only steals the show but has offered a performance that will reign as one of the very best that the horror genre has to offer. Last year was Hereditary‘s
Mike Gioulakis’ cinematography is magnificent, playing expertly with the nuances of day vs night, light vs dark, and depth vs claustrophobic immediacy. The music of composer Michael Abels, who also did Get Out, is a mix of Jerry Goldsmith’s The Omen and Akira Yamaoka’s Silent Hill. It’s haunting, jarring, unsettling, and completely arresting.
Peele’s expertise in comedy is on full display here as there is no doubt at all that Us is genuinely funny at times. There is no forced humor or unbelievable moments that elicit incredulous guffaws. The kind of humor on display here is human to its very core. It’s honest and that’s what makes it all the more harrowing when this family, who is so full of life, is put in peril.
There is a tip of the scale to balance out all the gushing that I’ve just done and that includes recognizing that there are a few stumbles in this fantastic feature. The pacing sometimes drags, although the patience Peele exhibits in building the tension of a scene is masterful. Additionally, the twist can be seen coming a mile away.
Still, there is no denying that Peele has avoided the dreaded “sophomore slump” and he has officially cemented himself as one of the most important horror directors of this generation.
Taking inspiration from Wes Craven and George A. Romero but applying their lessons around his own unique voice, Jordan Peele’s Us is one of the most original horror titles in recent years. This movie is destined for greatness.