Movie Review: Jordan Peele’s “Us”

TMN film critic Gordon McPherson gives “Us” four out of five white rabbits.

Director Jordan Peele’s “Us” is hair-raising, timely, darkly comedic and practically overflowing with ambitious messages. Perhaps Peele’s reach slightly exceeds his grasp, but anyone interested in social commentary or visceral thrills won’t be disappointed.

The film centers on Adelaide Wilson, played by Lupita Nyong’o, who goes on a beach house vacation in Santa Cruz, California, with her husband Gabe, played by Winston Duke, and their children Zora and Jason, played by Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex, respectively. Unfortunately for the Wilsons, this isn’t a relaxing family outing, even though Gabe is stoked to use his new boat. A traumatizing event from Adelaide’s childhood in a mirror-filled funhouse casts a malevolent shadow wherever she goes, worsened by a series of odd coincidences. One evening, the Wilsons find a family standing in their driveway — doppelgangers of themselves with murderous intent. Led by the raspy-voiced Red, also played brilliantly by Nyong’o, these doppelgangers won’t rest until they’ve killed their counterparts.

While less focused than his masterpiece “Get Out,” Peele proves he is among the best directors working today. The acting, cinematography, editing, beautiful soundtrack and themes all combine to create a viewing experience that is frankly awesome.

As with the central characters of “Get Out,” Peele gives refreshing depth to both the Wilsons and their mysterious doppelgangers, sprinkling humor in between (and sometimes during) the bloody set pieces. He establishes an endearing family dynamic that never feels forced or awkward. It’s refreshing to watch a horror film with characters I actually don’t want to perish.

Adelaide in particular is a fascinating protagonist — loving and brave, yet vulnerable and unpredictable. Peele explores her past with an exacting, page-turning eye that keeps viewers fully invested from start to finish, investigating the effects of post-traumatic stress. Nyong’o also gives award-worthy performances as both Adelaide and Red, the latter of which is bone-chilling and unexpectedly layered. This depth gives the head-bashing antics emotional weight.

“Us” sure doesn’t skimp on gore. Even though Peele doesn’t shy away from violence — or occasionally irritating jump scares, for that matter — this shouldn’t deter viewers from watching the film, unless they happen to be chickens. “Us” will satisfy intellectuals and gorehounds.

Along the film’s twisty path of terror, “Us” makes broad yet hard-hitting statements about economic marginalization, revenge, and the hypocrisy and inequality at America’s foundation. “Us” is very much a film of the moment, a scathing takedown of the American dream and those unable to achieve it, seemingly invisible to those living comfortably.

While these themes are admirable, the film would have benefited from a tighter approach, particularly with the rug-pulling revelations later on. I left “Us” dazed and overwhelmed. A second or third viewing would likely alleviate much of that, but that shouldn’t be necessary, especially at a point in the semester when most Truman students only have time to watch one film a month.

“Us,” while not eclipsing the greatness of “Get Out,” is a film that entertains as a brutal thrill ride and a film minor’s wet dream. Just don’t expect to have all your questions answered.