Jordan Peele’s “Us” is Full of Layers – Movie Review

by Logan Van Winkle

When I was young, I stayed up late to watch MadTV. Then when I got older, I stayed up late to watch Key & Peele. In 2017, I stayed up late to see Get Out on opening night. Jordan Peele has been a part of my life since I was in grade school. And for that, I consider myself very lucky.

Us movie poster
Us (2019)

Get Out is one of my favorite films of the decade so far. Jordan Peele’s new movie, Us, had a lot riding on its shoulders, but I am happy to say that Peele has, once again, delivered. Starring Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex, Us is about the scariest trip to the beach anyone has ever taken. The Wilsons embark on a family vacation to Santa Cruz beach. What starts as a weekend getaway turns into a nightmare as they are confronted by versions of themselves. These versions look similar but are very, very different. It may seem like a cliché to say, “I don’t want to give away any more of the plot out of fear of spoiling the movie,” but I promise you that it is more applicable to this movie than any other. You will thank me for it later.

Duke, Nyong'o, and Alex in Us

What made Get Out so unique was the way it deftly weaved between comedy, horror and social commentary. The horror came from Peele holding up a mirror to his audience in an extremely clever way. It was subtle but not too subtle, it was accusatory without alienating, it was smart and kept its audience on their toes. Us is made of a lot of the same material, and while it is not as grand of an achievement as Get Out, it is absolutely worth seeing.

“While it is not as grand of an achievement as Get Out, it is absolutely worth seeing.”

On a purely surface level, the reason Us works so well, as a movie, is due to its cast. Lupita Nyong’o, especially, is finally given a role she deserves. Since her Best Supporting Actress Oscar win, she has been unfairly ignored by Hollywood. Besides a lead role in the little seen Queen of Katwe, Nyong’o has mostly been reduced to a piece of the puzzle in Blockbuster ensembles such as The Force Awakens and Black Panther. While that is hardly a career move to look down on, Nyong’o’s talents are underutilized in such roles. She had one of the best breakout performances of the decade in 12 Years a Slave and since then, hasn’t been able to showcase her range. Us changes that.

Nyong'o plays two roles in Us - both wonderfully
Adelaide Wilson (Nyong’o)

Playing two roles that are complete opposites of one another, Nyong’o is finally given the chance to shine. She plays the dueling characters so differently that it is easy to forget they are the same person, even when side-by-side. One is a suburban mom, whose traumatic childhood experience is causing anxiety during her vacation. The other is a raspy-voiced psychopath whose motivations are, at first, unclear. Nyong’o switches back and forth into these characters so gracefully that it is truly astonishing. We are nowhere near awards season yet, but I can only hope that her work is remembered come Oscar season.

“[Nyong’o] plays the dueling characters so differently that it is easy to forget they are the same person, even when side-by-side.”

Nyong’o isn’t the only one who turns in a great performance. I know the movie just came out, but I feel confident about what I am about to say. Duke, who plays her husband, is one of the best movie dads of all time. He is so very dad-like in his desire to make sure his family has fun, and it makes for a very lovable character. Joseph and Alex play the daughter and son, Zora and Jason. Both give some of the best performances by young actors in a long time. Joseph, especially, shows real talent. At once, a completely unenthused teenager who just wants Wi-Fi. Then, a homicidal maniac with a dead stare. The four come together so well and so naturally that it feels like they are really a family.

Duke and Joseph
Gabe Wilson (Winston Duke) and Zora Wilson (Shahadi Wright Joseph) in “Us,” written, produced and directed by Jordan Peele.

Through two films, the thing I like most about Jordan Peele, as a director, is his ability to layer. In some movies, what you see is what you get. They are straightforward and by the time the credits begin rolling, you have already digested everything that you will get out of it. Peele is not content with that style of filmmaking. Like Get Out, Us is a movie that will leave you thinking for a long time. There are moments of foreshadowing, unexpected twists and lines of dialogue with double meaning that it is impossible to get everything that the film has to offer out of one viewing. The story is so complex that it begs to be dissected. Additionally, the movie is so watchable that you will actually want to.

“There are moments of foreshadowing, unexpected twists, and lines of dialogue with double meaning that it is impossible to get everything that the film has to offer out of one viewing.”

Repeat viewings can also increase appreciation for other elements of the film. For example, the score in Us is hypnotic. Sampling 90s hip-hop song, I Got 5 On It, is a genius move by Peele. The original song can actually be heard early on in the film. This makes it even more anxiety-inducing when the sample is slowed down and played as an instrumental version as the tension increases. We think back and reflect on happier times when the family sung it in a mini-van, before the nightmare began. The music has stuck with me since I saw the movie and I find myself humming it constantly. It helps set the tone for the horrors that unfold throughout the film and leaves a lasting impact in the same way that the performances do.

Nyong'o

With its phenomenal performances and assured direction by Peele, Us is one of the best movies of the year so far. Though it doesn’t reach the heights of Get Out, it has a lot of what makes that movie so good. The social commentary, the sense of humor and the horrific premise will lead you to questioning your day-to-day life long after you watch it. As far as I am concerned, Jordan Peele is 2-0. Between this and Get Out, I will be excited for his next ten projects. I can’t wait to see the nightmares he has in store for us next.

Check out more of our movie reviews! With Toy Story 4 bringing us back to our childhood, Spider-Man: Far From Home depicting once again one of our favorite superheroes and the remakes of The Lion King and Men in Black:International, the movies hitting the big screen in summer 2019 will have something for everybody!

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