Blumhouse Productions/Monkeypaw Productions/Universal Pictures
Written and Directed by Jordan Peele
Produced by Jordan Peele/Jason Blum/Ian Cooper/Sean McKittrick
Cinematography by Mike Gioulakis
Edited by Nicholas Monsour
Music by Michael Abels
Saying that fans of Jordan Peele were anxiously waiting for his follow-up to “Get Out” is a serious understatement. “Get Out” was such a cultural/entertainment earthquake that even detractors of the movie had to admit the impact it had. “Get Out” wasn’t just another horror movie. It broke the rules of the conventional horror movies in a lot of ways, such as having its black male lead character still be alive by the end of the movie and layering a thick coating of social satire and humor on top of the horror. One of the things I loved about “Get Out” was that Jordan Peele made me laugh at moments when I knew good and damn well I shouldn’t be laughing. And for weeks and months after I saw the movie, people were still engaging me in discussions about what I thought it meant and what it was about. That don’t happen much nowadays with many movies.
I usually don’t go out of my way to avoid details about a movie since I’m either going to see it or I’m not and spoilers don’t concern me. But I did make an exception for US because I wanted to go into Jordan Peele’s sophomore movie absolutely cold without the influence of the hype and anticipation of social media. Because “Get Out” was such a monster debut for Mr. Peele as a writer and director that I couldn’t help feel that there would be an excellent chance he wouldn’t be able to deliver another movie with the same gut punch that “Get Out” gave me the first time I saw it.
So, did US deliver? Yes and no. I’ll go into that after the obligatory plot summary:
The Wilson family are all looking forward to their Santa Cruz beach trip. Well, husband and father Gabe (Winston Duke) and the kids Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex) are. Wife and mother Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) isn’t as cheerful as they are. Back in 1986 she had a frightening experience in a funhouse of mirrors on the beach where she encountered a doppelganger of herself.
They’re only at the beach house for a day or so before Adelaide is forced to relive her childhood trauma. Her doppelganger returns and she has a family of her own who are all doppelgangers of Gabe, Zora and Jason. But these doppelgangers are brutal and violent, carrying huge razor-sharp scissors they are not shy at all about using and wearing odd red jumpsuits that could almost be prison uniforms. The family are all separated by their respective doppelgangers and so begins their horrific fight for survival. A fight that has nationwide scope as the Wilsons learn that there are more doppelgangers emerging from the sewers all over the country and killing people. Where did these doppelgangers come from and why are they so bloodthirsty? As Adelaide fights to keep her family alive and together she is also fighting her own repressed memories of what happened that long-ago day when she met her doppelganger as a child. Those memories might be the key to this plague of doppelgangers. And it also may be a key to a secret Adelaide doesn’t want to know.
First off, let me say that US is plenty scary. Peele knows how to use sound and light to create mood and atmosphere and there’s plenty of that here. He doesn’t have to drown us in buckets of gore to scare us. No, the implications of what might be going on and why this situation is happening is pretty daggone scary enough, thank you very much. Just the notion of being confronted by somebody who looks exactly you and who wants to kill you is enough to give me the heebie-jeebies.
That’s not to say that US isn’t afraid to get bloody. There’s more than enough shocking deaths in this movie, including one involving Elisabeth Moss (you know her from “The West Wing” “Mad Men” and “The Handmaid’s Tale”) who fills the “Who The Hell Let Her In This Movie?” slot. She’s a wonderful actress and she does an amazing job in US but then again, I’d be hard pressed to single out anybody who isn’t bringing their A game to the movie as all of the actors have to play dual roles. Shahadi Wright Joseph as Zora and Zora’s doppelganger is a knockout. This couldn’t have been a easy movie for either of the child actors but Shahadi Wright Joseph has the more physical job as there are extended scenes of Zora being chased by and fighting her doppelganger and she’s never less than 100% convincing in both roles.
Winston Duke carrying the bulk of the comedy here truly surprised me and I think his way of playing Gabe as your typical bumbling sitcom dad suddenly finding himself in a horror movie is inspired. Imagine if Danny Thomas from “Make Room For Daddy” or Dick Van Dyke from the “Dick Van Dyke Show” played Jack Torrance and you get the idea. And Lupita Nyong’o is just flat out brilliant. There’s already talk that she should win an Oscar for the dual role of Adelaide and Red, her doppelganger and I can certainly see it. The intensity Lupita Nyong’o brings to both roles has to be seen to be believed. If you go see US for no other reason than the acting, your money and time will have been well spent.
But I walked out of the theater not at all sure of what US is actually supposed to be about. I had the strong impression that Jordan Peele was making a statement about something because the title of the movie could be just as well the abbreviation for United States and it’s no coincidence that one of the movie’s most powerful images is a grim recreation of the “Hands Across America” charity event that took place during the Ronald Reagan era. Whereas “Get Out” was straightforward as to what it was about, what was happening to Chris Washington and why, the metaphors in US are not as clear and it’s going to take me some time to work out in my head what they mean.
But I’m fairly for sure that’s what Jordan Peele intended. Just like with “Get Out” he wants audiences to come away from his movie discussing and debating what US is about, what the characters mean and what they represent. Taken purely as entertainment US is worth your time if you just want to take it as a superbly written, acted and directed horror movie. But there’s all of those societal subtexts mixed in with the bloody mayhem if you want to give your brain cells a good workout. Enjoy.