‘Us’ is stunning and thought-provoking return for Jordan Peele

Jordan Peele has spared no time in between releases of his movies, with only 2 years in between his Oscar winning directorial debut “Get Out” and his new film, “Us.” However, by no means does that mean that “Us” was rushed in any way shape or form. Rather, “Us” serves as one of the most sharply crafted horror movies of recent years. While it shies away from the intense social commentary and satire of “Get Out,” “Us” still delivers, with it’s gorgeous cinematic aesthetic, tight script, well thought out scares, and twists and turns that will leave you thinking for days to come.

“Us” follows the Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o), her husband Gabe (Winston Duke), daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph), and their son Jason (Evan Alex), as they return to Adelaide’s childhood beach house in Santa Cruz for the summer. However, as they settle in for the night, the Wilson’s home is besieged by a family in red jumpsuits. Upon closer inspection, the Wilsons realize one horrific truth: their intruders are carbon copies of themselves. With their lives on the line, the Wilsons must outthink these evil clones of themselves in order to survive.

Now there’s a lot that is not covered in that synopsis, but to spoil more than that would be a disservice. No synopsis could do the boldness of this film justice. Jordan Peele has crafted an ambitious and incredibly engaging story that you simply can’t take your eyes off of as it happens. In relation to that story, the script Peele has written to tell this story is incredibly tight. There is nothing in this script that does not need to be, whether or not you realize it at first. For each setup, there is a corresponding payoff, and each setup is interwoven into the natural dialogue of the characters flawlessly. Peele also shows off his aptitude towards comedy in “Us”, with quick, witty dialogue that doesn’t interrupt the flow or the horror of the movie. Jordan Peele’s scripts are quickly becoming one of the centerpieces of his films, and it is easy to see why.

Although the smartness of the script is aided by incredible performances by all in the cast, Lupita Nyong’o truly shines here. Each actor is already working overtime, as each one has to play their own doppelganger, but Nyong’o makes it look easy. Both Adelaide and her evil counterpart, Red, are completely different characters, the similarities between the two stopping at their looks. Every moment Nyong’o is on screen is layered with emotion and nuance and is an absolute pleasure to watch. Winston Duke, who many may recognize from his breakout role and previous collaboration with Lupita Nyong’o in “Black Panther,” is a joy to watch as well. Standing at an imposing 6’5″, Duke still comes across as a loveable teddy bear of a man. While he may be the main source of comedy in “Us,” that doesn’t mean anything about him is one-note, as Duke seamlessly sells his performance. He also shines as his doppelganger, Abraham, juxtaposing the gentle giant nature of Gabe Wilson, with an unsettling behemoth-like presence. Child actors Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex never feel out of place either, and are incredibly effective as their demented copies, easily staying on par with the creepiness of the rest of the cast.

This film is also scary, which is not as common as it should be for horror movies these days. There aren’t too many times where it will jump out and scare you in an attempt to startle, but rather relies on unsettling imagery that the movie knows you will be unable to tear your eyes away from. The scares of “Us” are once again benefitted by Jordan Peele’s knack for set up and payoff. Peele introduces familiar imagery early, and then turn it on its head, forcing you to look at something you though you once knew in a new way. While it’s rare that “Us” will make you jump out of your seat, it will leave its images burned into your mind’s eye.

On top of all these pluses, all of “Us” is complimented by an intriguing and wonderfully crafted score. Sometimes it’s a cult-like chorus performing a strange chant, and other times it’s fun needle drops like “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys and “F*** the Police” by NWA. But the true cherry on top here is breathtaking remix of Luniz’ “I Got 5 on It.” When first played in its original form, it’s a fun rap song with a melodically interesting chorus. Later in the film, once again playing on his distortion of previous ideas, Peele uses a barebones version of the song, stripped down to its most basic instrumental melody, now being performed by all stringed instruments rather than anything digital. Whereas the original was once fast, Peele’s remix takes its time with each bowing of its deep strings, moving with a slow, haunting, yet somehow beautiful melody that creates an inescapable dark atmosphere. It is music in the likes of the iconic styles of “The Exorcist” or “Halloween,” and you should give it a listen right now, even if you haven’t seen the movie.

However, I believe that the greatest achievement of “Us” is its ability to create an incredibly satisfying conclusion without feeling the need to give all the answers. Peele sprinkles ideas here and there to give you an idea, but in the end you have to think about “Us” long and hard after you leave the theater, and not even in a taxing way. My advice: don’t see this alone. Not because of it being scary. Rather, the conversation you will have about this movie is bound to be a fascinating one. In “Us,” Peele does not give the audience “2,” he gives them “1+1,” and allows the audience to decide for themselves how to do the math. It is a film that is so thematically rich, yet the themes are not telegraphed in an annoyingly obvious way. “Us” is filled to the brim with commentary on humanity’s obsession with themselves and Jungian psychological theorizing, and one could still leave the theater not having picked up on any of those aspects.

If you’re still waiting, don’t. Go see “Us.” Go see “Us” twice maybe. It’s absolutely worth it. It is expertly and thoughtfully crafted in every moment of its 1:56 runtime. It is an incredibly ambitious film that has clearly had a tremendous amount of love and dedication poured into it. While “Get Out” brought Jordan Peele to the forefront of the hollywood consciousness, “Us” cements his place as a new staple of the horror genre.