Jordan Peele’s “Us” is an ambitious and chilling fable of American identity
Jordan Peele shattered expectations with his directorial debut “Get Out.” Not only did it tap into the zeitgeist, but it also provided a darkly humorous and equally scary take on American race relations. In his sophomore effort, “Us,” he expands the lens of his commentary by exploring recurring conflicts within American identity.
“Us” tells the story of a family arranging a secluded getaway where they can spend time with each other on vacation. A relaxing time quickly turns into a vivid nightmare when doppelgangers come after them. These counterparts are more savage and animalistic, yet carry a lot of the same qualities as the family.
Divulging any more would be a disservice to its story, but with this home invasion scenario, Peele provides insights into what it means to be a person living in America. Providing counterparts to the main characters reveals the dual identities we all carry, particularly discrepancies between what we say and what we do. In this turbulent political climate and the advent of social media, it’s very easy to mistake faux-activism with effective action. Calling attention to a particular problem or issue is not the same as actively attempting to stop it, and if we don’t tether these two things together, bottled emotions and problems will eventually burst.
Peele communicates these messages through chillingly calculated setpieces and imagery. There is a great amount of skill Peele has in building his world and scenes. He isn’t afraid to be patient with his scares, and often finds a subtext of absurdity in them. This confidence makes it seem as if he’s directed several films before, with the different story beats being built on top of one another to make a grand finale. This is complimented by Mike Gioulakis’ moody, shadowy lighting and Michael Abels’ hair-raising score.
Still, the scares wouldn’t have been as effective if the audience couldn’t relate and root for the core family. Lupita Nyong’o gives an award-worthy performance as a woman protecting her family while reconciling with her past. Winston Duke is great as a goofy, likeable dad and provides needed levity throughout. Them, along with their two kids (Shahadi Joseph and Evan Alex), have great chemistry together and act like a real family, making the audience invest in them more.
In its ambition, the film does sometimes muddle its message and commentary. There isn’t as tight a thread to follow and the film leaves for some discussion to follow. A few of the jokes aren’t well timed and the characters often make unrealistic decisions. The film also has a slight pacing problem in its third act, when things slow and more things start to be revealed.
Besides that however, Jordan Peele delivers another success with his second outing as director. Although it is slightly messier because of its ambitions, “Us” is an original and scary film with something valuable to say.
“Us” will be released Friday, March 22nd
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