'Us' film review: Peele's 'Get Out' follow-up chills, disturbs
Writer-director Jordan Peele affirms place among truly visionary filmmakers of the modern era with the psychological horror thriller "Us" (in theaters nationwide March 22).
In short: A wife and husband (Lupita Nyong'o and Winston Duke) take their two children on a beach trip -- when their twisted, murderous doppelgängers begin to terrorize them. Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker also star.
Peele throws the audience in the deep end with thriller that is as unsettling as it is challenging and mysterious. The latest from the "Get Out" director simultaneously grabs the audience, yet, also is confident enough to leave them asking "what the heck is happening?!" From the very first scene, "Us" takes the audience into an increasingly terrifying, high-concept nightmare - and rarely bothers giving the audience a straightforward answer as to what is going on at any moment.
The film demands the audience's rapt and unbroken attention - every detail is deliberate and every clue does reasonably explain what is happening and even why. "Us" is rich with dimension both thematic and narrative. Quick, easy to overlook hints for the audience to work out what is going on with the story's characters - and what the story means in the greater social context.
The most surprising aspect of this heady and violent horror flick is just how hilarious it is. Peele's script is a taut and intense nightmare punctuated with levity. The humor never compromises the story's horror elements - instead, these moments are needed breaks in an otherwise relentlessly intense and disturbing horror flick. Unyielding horror is emotionally exhausting - and the welcome bits of quick, focused humor keep "Us from redlining the audience's nerves.
The relatively small cast deserves every kudo for essentially playing two, diametrically opposed roles in the film. Nyong'o and Duke flesh out a relatable married couple -- yet they also play the sinister, twisted mirror versions of their main characters. Nyong'o, in particular, anchors the film with her loving yet distressed PTD survivor protagonist, as well as her unblinking and unnerving counterpart - a character devoid of love and filled only with ill-intent.
While the essence of "Us" is relatively straightforward, much of the story is rooted in an admitted cumbersome mythology. While necessary (otherwise this crazy, high-concept story would collapse under its own audacity), this forces "Us" to establish a somewhat complex narrative foundation for any of the film to make sense. This means, sadly, major moments are defined primarily with long blocks of exposition. It's well-crafted exposition, but any film that has to essentially take a time out to explain at length what is going on is not as well-crafted as a film that conveys the same information without inelegant exposition monologues.
Final verdict: Peele's latest terrifies and entertains from start to finish, leaving plenty to unpack in a second or third viewing.
"Us" opens in theaters nationwide March 22. The psychological horror thriller is rated R for violence/terror, and language and has a running time of 116 minutes.