Stars: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Madison Curry
Writer: Jordan Peele
Director: Jordan Peele
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Release Date: March 22, 2019
Spoiler alert for those who have not seen the trailer for US: the movie, written and directed by Jordan Peele, concerns a family menaced by their exact physical doubles. It’s impossible to discuss US without saying at least this much.
As with his feature debut, GET OUT, Peele has a great deal on his mind. Leaving the press screening, this reviewer overheard a young woman going into great detail with three of her friends on the messages and metaphors of US. This reviewer then asked to hear more, and the young woman expounded on what she got out of the film. Her conclusions are worthy of a university thesis on US. Unfortunately, to explore these meanings would mean getting truly spoilery, so for the purposes of this piece, most of the metaphors must remain unexplored.
What remains is a consistently scary as hell, truly unsettling, yet often very funny work. In a prologue set in 1986 Santa Cruz, young Adelaide (Madison Curry) becomes separated from her parents at the boardwalk and has a traumatic experience in a funhouse.
In the present, adult Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) is now a parent herself, married to sweet, slightly nerdy Gabe (Winston Duke). Their two children are teen Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph), who is questioning whether she wants to continue her promising track career, and young Jason (Evan Alex), who loves his wolfman mask. The family arrives for a vacation in the lakeside home they’ve inherited near Santa Cruz. Gabe is totally excited, the kids are somewhat indifferent, and Adelaide is apprehensive. She hasn’t shared her entire back history with Gabe, but she isn’t happy to be there. That night, four people dressed in red jumpsuits, who otherwise are identical to Adelaide, Gabe, Zora, and Jason (played by Nyong’o, Duke, Joseph, and Alex), show up in the driveway of the vacation house.
That’s the set-up. Fear, bloodshed and revelations follow. Filmmaker Peele loves to create suspense. He very seldom has something pop in out of nowhere, either in visual or narrative terms. Instead, he lets us see movement in the background of a shot, so that we know something is wrong several beats before it is fully revealed. This is effectively creepy.
Even more effective, and downright bravura, are the dual performances by all the leads. Each character is strangely tethered to their opposite number, even though they are extremely different. Nyong’o achieves a sense of legend as she toggles between the tense, urbane Adelaide and the anguished, vengeful Red. Duke’s cuddly, funny Gabe could not be unlike his brutal, inarticulate Abraham, yet he embodies both perfectly. Joseph’s terrified, determined Zora is an astonishing contrast to her avid, grinning Other and Alex is likewise impactful as little Jason and his doppelganger. Curry is splendid. Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker, as friends of the family, are impressive.
Peele makes superb use of cultural artifacts for effects big and small (there’s something from 1986 that goes from mild nostalgia to spine-chilling) and knows how to frighten with body movement and close-ups. Two films in, he’s proving to be an expert maker of horror, adding to the comedy chops he so adroitly demonstrated on KEY & PEELE. There’s a lot of humor in US, especially with audience-surrogate Gabe as he struggles to get his mind around the crisis.
The logistics and mythology of US are not entirely clear on a first viewing, even with an expansive expository speech. There are also so many layers of meaning here that it seems unlikely they’ll all sink in for most viewers by the end, and it’s even more unlikely that everybody will agree on what it all means. It’s no accident that one of the poster designs for US resembles a Rorschach test. It’s a movie that invites engagement beyond its running time, designed to spark debate, analysis, and fear of mirrors. Ultimately, US could be clearer, but it’s so awesome on so many levels that this doesn’t really matter.
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Article: Movie Review: US