In many ways Jordan Peele had a tougher road to walk with his second feature film than he did the first time around. There’s a scrappy energy to Get Out that can only come when you’re the underdog. Many of us were intrigued when it was announced that funnyman Jordan Peele was going to try his hand at a horror movie, but expectation wasn’t a crazy high bar for him.
Then Get Out came out, was amazing, made a crapton of money, started winning awards and impacted pop culture in a huge way.
While he earned the industry’s respect and probably had a blank check anywhere around town for his next film there had to be a weight of expectation on him this time around that wasn’t there before. If Us was anything less than a pop culture phenomenon would it be a failure when held up next to its successful older brother?
Us is a different kind of film than Get Out. It’s not a rehash of the same messaging and lofty ideas of the first film, but because Peele made it so quickly after Get Out it shares some of that film’s underdog energy. There are similarities, but it’s by no means the same experience and I honestly can’t predict how the masses will respond to it. Will they embrace it for the good film it is or will they want something more like what he did before?
What I can tell you without ruining your experience is that while the premise is way more Twilight Zone-y than Get Out it does have a few key things in common. For one, Peele proves that he’s as sharp as ever when it comes to throwing in some subtext under his fun horror movie. In this case he’s asking us to look at our own evils, not some “other.” The villainy on display here isn’t a mask-wearing psycho or a pissed off ghost or a finger-knived dream demon. It’s you.
Secondly, his talent for crafting complex, intriguing characters is still on full display. The Wilsons are a totally fleshed out family unit and there wasn’t one of them I wasn’t happy to get to know better every scene. Lupita Nyong’o in particular knocks this out of the park. I know she won her Oscar for 12 Years a Slave, and deservedly so, but if there was any real justice in this world she’d win another for this performance. If you’ve seen the trailer you know she plays dual roles (as does the rest of her family) and while I knew she would bring it for her “regular lady” part I was shocked at how much depth and attention to detail she put into creating the “crazy lady” part. She turned in not one but two top line performances here and while the others did absolutely fantastic jobs at their dual roles as well, Nyong’o’s work is the most central and important performance in film and she flat out nails it.
Winston Duke also turns in a great performance as Gabe, the patriarch of the family. He gets most of the comic relief moments and it’s a testament to his natural charm and charisma that he can pull that off without disrupting the overall creepy tone.
Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex round out the family as the two kids. Like their mom and dad they get to be proactive when the shit goes down. There’s not a whole lot of cowering and hiding in this movie. When it’s time to fight they fight and that includes the kids. It’s a small touch, but one I liked a lot.
Get Out wore it’s racial ideology on its sleeve. It was woven into the very fabric of that film’s themes. I feel like Us is just as progressive, but in a much subtler way. The Winston family isn’t treated any differently than anyone else. Tim Heidecker and Elizabeth Moss aren’t their “white friends.” They’re just their friends. Peele never tries to hide The Wilsons’ cultural influences and history, but what’s so progressive about what he does here is he shows us this family with zero judgments or nods to how crazy it is there’s a black family at the center of this story. They’re strong, they have agency, they play things smart and you’re rooting for them the whole way through.
Again, I really can’t tell if general audiences will accept Us as readily as they did Get Out, but as far as I’m concerned Peele avoided a sophomore slump here. Us feels like a film that will reward rewatches. The score and cinematography are both top notch, there’s so many rich character details that I feel like I probably only got half of them on this first watch and I just want to go back and spend more time with these characters.
Us opens March 22nd.