So is it going to be like this every time then? Whenever writer/director Jordan Peele announces a new film, do we have to just clear out space on the calendar for about a month afterward to unpack the twisted metaphors and chilling insights that speak acutely to our cruelest flaws as a country and as individual people? Is this what it really means to be “draxxed sklounst?” Because I am feeling draxxed sklounst.
Us is as good a sophomore effort as has ever been sophomored. This is a deliciously slow-simmering stew of Kafkaesque terror that climaxes with a final few moments designed to make you reconstruct the whole narrative over again in your brain. It will be immediately received as “not quite as good as Get Out” by idiots like me who will soon realize that they are wrong after thinking about it for more than a minute. Worry that he would be a one-hit wonder is the one fear with which Peele can no longer be associated.
A family on vacation is stalked by murdery duplicates of themselves. That is the entirety of Us’s plot. Of course this summation leaves out that it reimagines “Hands Across America” as an apocalyptic nightmare and basically operates as an arthouse remake of C.H.U.D. For those who don’t speak fluent 1980s VHS horror movie, that stands for Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller. As good a director as he has proven himself thus far, Peele may be an even better writer. His ability to weave sophisticated themes onto threadbare plots, stitched with biting and honest dialogue, already sets him apart from a sea of writer/directors whose scripts reek of arrogant bravado.
As a director, Peele can certainly secure the best from his cast. Considering that the Academy’s rules for what distinguishes a lead performance and a supporting role is “You know, whatevs,” Lupita Nyong’o deserves a nomination in both. Winston Duke effortlessly delivers awkward-dad comic relief, while Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex somehow each give two good performances, which is a total of four more good performances by child actors than is expected annually.
Undeniably a horror movie, Us builds out a satisfying mythology for “The Tethered,” which is the creepy-cool name for the killer clones. Scenes of raw terror are interrupted by clever beats and never descend to cheap scares. Just like Get Out, Us squeezes audiences in a vice grip made from social observations. Us may not explicitly be about race, except for when it clearly is, but it is no less filled with vital critiques.
On a micro and macro level, Americans are plagued by our belligerent unwillingness to atone for the sins of our past, to make space for those forced to live beneath us and to admit the ugliest versions of our own selves. It’s right there in the title: the real horror is U.S. Again, if every work of narrative fiction Peele pumps out is going to be this dense and layered, his production studio really needs to start offering free therapy with every ticket purchase.
Grade = A