Jordan Peele was only vaguely on my radar a few years ago because my best friend had me watch a few clips of Key & Peele, but as you all know comedy and I have a tenuous relationship held by the barest tether. It didn’t really resonate with me, so I moved on with my life. Then two years ago Get Out is released around early February and it becomes THE movie of the year that is still talked about and analyzed by hundreds of YouTube content creators and film students – and rightfully so. I had long heard that Jordan was an extremely talented comedian, so when he comes out swinging with one of the best original horror movies in years I am not terribly surprised. My ex and I often talked about how some of the great comics could turn the best serious roles ever simply because they understand timing, pacing, and the layers of human emotion far better than most. The same applies to Mr. Peele.
With this being his second turn at bat in the horror genre is he still swinging as strong?
Taking on the writing, producing, and directors credit is a bold move in Hollywood even now. It fails more often than it succeeds, but Jordan Peele is talented and has a clear vision of what he wants to do. From the opening frame he is determined to tell you what to expect, he wants to set the expectations for the movie and then begin to play on them as the story unfolds. In this he absolutely succeeds. There’s a base understanding of fear he works with in Us that many directors would be wise to follow suit with. There’s fear of the unknown and fear of the known but using them together – that thats a trick right there. The story of what is happening to this family as they face their doppelgangers is designed to make you uneasy and to make you worry for their fate and he does that well. Because of the fact you are dealing with doppelgangers, you really don’t know who will live and who will die as the story progresses. You are never fully allowed to believe anyone is safe and that is a failing that most horror movies have. You KNOW who is safe so you don’t feel the tension of whats going to happen. Here, you don’t know what might happen or what punches won’t be pulled.
That’s a good thing. It keeps you invested in the story. It has you rooting for the family and worried for them. Again something many horror movies forget to maintain.
Much of that aside from the direction of Jordan lays on the broad shoulders of Winston Duke (Black Panther‘s M’baku) and Lupita Nyong’o (Black Panther, 12 Years a Slave). Nyong’o owns this movie and her role as a mother trying to survive. As with the rest of the cast she performs double duty as both the mother and the doppelganger and there is a lot of performance happening here. She continues to impress with every performance and any movie with her would be lucky to have her. She’s an absolute powerhouse who can fill the frame with every bit of energy even if she is being restrained. That kind of power is impressive, especially when you put her 5’5″ next to the 6’5″ Winston Duke. He has an amazing physicality that was on full display in Black Panther, yet here he feels like he has dad bod. For someone who has used and is used to his physical presence to pull it back and feel weaker, to feel smaller is a feat unto itself. In Black Panther he showed he had charisma and charm and this movie proved that wasn’t a trick, and also lets him be a bit awkward at times and it works. His chemistry with Nyong’o is believable and they do feel like a family unit.
Holding your own against these two would be difficult for many, but credit must be given to both child actors. Shahadi Wright Joseph (Young Nala in this summers Lion King) as the daughter and Evan Alex as the son. They have a lot to do as well, but each performance is different and strong enough that when they are in the frame with the others it works and their presence is known.
That partially comes from the technical direction with the framing of the shots. Peele and his cinematographer Mike Giolakis (It Follows) use the camera wisely. They avoid some of the camera tricks others would go for and instead just use lighting and blocking to set the stage and create the tension in the moment that you need. There are some retrospectively brilliant shots I am thinking of in the movie that I noticed, but wish I had noticed more. There are some scripting flaws that I can’t quite work through, but the brisk pacing of the movie doesn’t give you time.
Us is worth seeing. While I don’t think that Peele knocked it out of the park like he did with Get Out, this is a solid line drive with a good double or triple out of it. Baseball references, who knew right? Get Out is sufficiently creepy from the onset and while I would love to say it maintained that through out I don’t know that it did. I can’t quite put my finger on what didn’t work as well for me, but I know that the direction is good, the acting is terrific, but there’s just something missing enough that I know I like it, but I don’t know how I feel about it.
It could be said, that I need to digest it more. That I need to talk about it more and what others got from it. That could very well be true. What we do have though is an original horror movie in a time when people are still vetching about nothing original. What we do have is an excellent writer and director in his sophmore effort in the horror genre doing better than 90% of others in that same field. I will warn, slightly spoilerish, if you want gore this isn’t your movie. It has it’s share of blood being spilled, but its done with an appropriately restrained hand.
Should I watch it though?
Absolutely. I like this movie a lot. I can’t say I love it, but I do like it. If you enjoy horror and tension this movie has both.
Would you watch it again?
In theatres? Maybe. I don’t know that it would or should get a second viewing at theatre prices.
But you would buy it?
Absolutely. I can see myself very easily curling up on the couch with a nice cup of cocoa or cider and watching this movie a few times.
Anything else to add?
Like I said above, I like this movie. It’s a very good movie. Its what I want more of in the genre. I am not conflicted on that at all. I just can’t quite pin how the movie made me feel – which is interesting in and of itself. That could be a success or a failure on the part of the movie, but for now we’ll just say its worth discussing.
Now, I won’t be seeing Dumbo next week. I really have no interest in it so will be taking the week off, but I may have a surprise this weekend. After that, well I hear Dead is Better