Monday, May 20, 2024

‘Us’ delivers Peele-style horror

In 2017, Jordan Peele’s debut feature film, “Get Out,” made over $200 million worldwide and earned him an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. It would be an understatement to say that expectations were high for his sophomore feature.

“Us” stars Lupita Nyong’o as Adelaide, the matriarch of the Wilson family. As they take a summer vacation to Santa Cruz, their beach house is invaded by a group of individuals who have more in common with the family than one would expect. 

That is all that I would like to say. I know that the trailer shows a little more of these invaders, but I do not want to go that far. 

The less you know about this story going in, the better your experience will be.

Unlike “Get Out” which is 75% build-up and 25% climactic violence, “Us” flips that formula. This puts a lot of pressure on the first half-hour of the film to really flesh out this family and make sure that the audience will be invested once the blood starts spilling. 

While both movies do have the visceral action that affects everyone in the theater, Peele also wants the audience to think about the story after the credits roll.

 “Get Out” was about the post-racial lie of America following the Obama years according to Peele. He jokingly stated it was a “documentary” after the Golden Globes nominated it for Best Comedy. 

When it comes to the themes of “Us,” it’s as ambiguous as the title. There is a reason why the teaser poster was an evocation of a Rorschach test. There are already hundreds of articles online of “this is what “Us” is really about” which are really fun to look at, but please see the movie first before you go and click on these.

Peele can have as many themes as he wants, but a movie is only as good as its characters. 

Not only is the script very taught with small character-defining actions and throw away lines that actually carry years of backstory, but the actors are able to deliver as well. 

Nyong’o is fantastic and will no doubt be in the conversation of worst snubs next Oscar season. Both child actors in the Wilson family, Shahadi Wright and Evan Alex have other credits on their resume, but this is the first feature-length film they are acting in. 

They are fantastic and completely believable as siblings with a strained relationship that still feels loving. Something anyone who has a brother or sister can relate to in some aspect. Winston Duke, who you might remember as M’Baku from “Black Panther,” also provides some natural “dad humor” with cultural references that will either make you chuckle or wince.

When the violence does start to ramp up, Peele is able to develop the tension perfectly. The punches and stabs are brutal and both times I saw this in the theaters, the audiences always gasped along and clearly felt this was real enough. It also avoids the current horror movie trope of quiet…quiet…BANG, because “Us” wants to scare you and not just startle you. 

It is apparent that Peele is a big horror movie buff and someone who wants to see the genre develop. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Nyong’o said that he gave her 10 classic horror films to create “a shared language.” The home invasion style of Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games,” the similarly tested mother from “The Babadook,” and the symmetrical tracking shots from “The Shining” can all be found in “Us.” 

During a Q&A at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in California on March 25, Peele stated in relation to the stories he wants to tell, “I don’t see myself casting a white dude as the lead in my movie. Not that I don’t like white dudes… But I’ve seen that movie.” 

With more diverse storytellers in front of and behind the camera, these new visions are able to give us original movies that we haven’t seen before. 

And if Jordan Peele is involved, that it is something to really get excited for.

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