Review: Jordan Peele's 'Us' doubles down on suspense, political metaphor

 
 
Updated 3/21/2019 8:11 AM
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  • Adelaide (Lupita Nyong'o) shields her son (Evan Alex) and daughter (Shahadi Wright Joseph) from homicidal dopplegangers in "Us," written, produced and directed by Jordan Peele.

    Adelaide (Lupita Nyong'o) shields her son (Evan Alex) and daughter (Shahadi Wright Joseph) from homicidal dopplegangers in "Us," written, produced and directed by Jordan Peele. Courtesy of Universal Pictures

"Us" -- ★ ★ ★ ★

Pay double-close attention to every single small detail in the beginning scenes of Jordan Peele's freaky and outrageously frightening family horror/comedy "Us."

A stalled motor boat.

A real spider crawling out from under a toy spider.

Oh, don't forget the opening screen memo that tells us about miles of tunnels in the U.S. that we don't know about.

Everything in this tightly edited movie foreshadows horrible and horribly funny events that propel "Us" into a gory, original political metaphor even the late George Romero would love.

If Peele's ingenious, racially insightful debut feature "Get Out" mirrored an old "Twilight Zone" episode with a hefty budget, then his much-scarier second film "Us" boldly taps into the home-invasion and Armageddon genres to tell a parable about a divided America ravaged by a civil war between the have-nothings and the have-too-muches.

"Us" turns and twists like a Black Adder, and this review will reveal no major surprises.

The Wilsons (Winston Duke, Lupita Nyong'o and Evan Alex) must face off against homicidal dopplegangers in "Us."
The Wilsons (Winston Duke, Lupita Nyong'o and Evan Alex) must face off against homicidal dopplegangers in "Us." - Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Three families come together in "Us."

The financially well-off Wilson family consists of serious mother Adelaide (Lupita Nyong'o) married to joke-cracking Gabe (her "Black Panther" co-star Winston Duke), with their two kids Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex), who wears a Halloween mask.

The second family includes Josh and Kitty Tyler (Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss), Adelaide and Gabe's best friends, and they personify affluent, white privilege as they coast through their materialistic, self-absorbed lives.

(The Tylers also have twin teen daughters, another nice touch in this tale of twofers.)

Back in 1986, as we learn at the start, young Adelaide suffered a severe trauma after walking into a creepy amusement park attraction called "Vision Quest: Find Yourself."

Now, Adelaide confesses to Gabe that she has always had the feeling the strange little girl she met -- who looked just like her ­-- has been trying to find her ever since.

Which brings us to the third family, the one ominously standing in front of the Wilson house one night garbed in blood-red jumpsuits.

They are also the Wilsons (the same actors doing double duty), but some sort of demented, disfigured Mr. Hyde versions of them. They carry huge scissors they intend to use to cut short the lives of their Dr. Jeckyll counterparts.

"Who are you?" a frightened Adelaide asks.

Adelaide (Lupita Nyong'o) faces a strange threat in "Us," written, produced and directed by Jordan Peele.
Adelaide (Lupita Nyong'o) faces a strange threat in "Us," written, produced and directed by Jordan Peele. - Courtesy of Universal Pictures

"We are Americans," replies her homicidal alter-ego. She calls herself Adelaide's "shadow" and explains their families are "tethered."

Filmgoers will either go with Peele's audaciously wild, metaphorical explanation for these doppelgängers or not.

Either way, that won't distract from how Peele doubles-down on suspense in a brain-blowing movie that slingshots him into an orbit alongside Romero and Alfred Hitchcock.

Peele takes his time setting up his characters (which, unlike those in many horror films, remain consistent no matter what dangers they face) before unleashing the sort of scream-like-a-baby sequences that should require theaters to sell Depends at the concession counters.

A chunk of credit goes to "Get Out" composer Michael Abels, whose nerve-jangling music includes not only indecipherable "Omen"-esque chants, but the scariest use of strings since Bernard Hermann stabbed Janet Leigh with a few in "Psycho."

Yet, the most frightening element has less to do with its operatic violence than its stunner suggestion as to who the film's true villains might be.

It's a double delight.

• • •

Starring: Lupita Nyong'o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II

Directed by: Jordan Peele

Other: A Universal Pictures release. Rated R for language, violence. 116 minutes

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