Combustible Celluloid
 
With: Lupita Nyong'o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Anna Diop, Cali Sheldon, Noelle Sheldon, Madison Curry
Written by: Jordan Peele
Directed by: Jordan Peele
MPAA Rating: R for violence/terror, and language
Running Time: 116
Date: 03/22/2019
IMDB

Us (2019)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Double Takes

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jordan Peele's Us is finally here, opening Friday in Bay Area theaters and elsewhere, and attempting the impossible job of following up the sensation that was Get Out.

Whereas Get Out might once have been just a clever, low-budget horror film, it appeared at just the right time and, in addition to pleasing horror fans, it also pleased critics, scholars, sociologists, and Academy voters. It was a movie of its moment, but also brilliantly made.

Also largely a horror film, Us opens with supreme confidence, as if unconcerned with the stakes. It's as if he hit a grand slam his first time up to bat, and is now calmly strolling to home plate a few innings later.

A flashback takes us to 1986 in Santa Cruz. Little Adelaide is enjoying the Beach Boardwalk with her parents. Her dad wins her an oversized Michael Jackson "Thriller" t-shirt, and she wanders off to a house of mirrors. In the darkness, she sees a reflection of herself... except, it's not a reflection.

In the present, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong'o, in a mind-blowing performance) is now happily married, to goofball Gabe Wilson (Winston Duke), with a phone-obsessed teen daughter, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph), and a young son, Jason (Evan Alex), who loves monsters and magic tricks.

The Wilsons go on vacation to their summer house, and Peele sets up their family dynamic with relaxed, yet precise strokes. Gabe suggests they go to the beach at Santa Cruz, and Adelaide freezes. She can't go back there. Gabe presses, and she reluctantly agrees, but only if they can leave before dark.

Hanging out with their friends Josh (Tim Heidecker) and Kitty (Elisabeth Moss), the day goes well, excepting Jason disappearing for a panic-inducing moment, and the presence of a weird man holding a sign that reads "Jeremiah 11:11."

However, at home, just before bedtime, a strange family suddenly appears standing in their driveway. As they get closer, it seems that they are exact doubles of the Wilsons, except not quite right. Something is off about them. And they don't seem to be friendly.

What follows is a long, exhausting, and somewhat bloody night, and then something close to insanity. Us is completely bonkers, so much so that its intricate backstory could be interpreted in many ways. But through it all, Peele's filmmaking is extraordinarily measured.

He's miles away from that amateur school of filmmaking that requires camera-shaking every time anything tense happens. He understands, like the Hitchcock of The Birds, the Polanski of Rosemary's Baby, or the Kubrick of The Shining, that a specific camera move, the difference between hiding and revealing, can be infinitely superior.

He's also razor-focused on sounds, whether it's a well-placed pop song, pitched to just the right volume, or a spooky instrumental score that ties in, thematically, in just the right way.

And, coming as he does from the comic team of Key and Peele, last seen on the big screen in the delightful Keanu (Peele's feature screenwriting debut), he understands the primal, bodily reactions of laughter and fright.

He knows how to sprinkle comedy throughout to slice through the suspense.

In Get Out, the humor was almost exclusively provided by side character Rod Williams (Lil Rel Howery), but in Us, anyone can get a laugh.

Yet the most remarkable thing about Us is that, while Get Out made a sharp and satirical commentary on relations between races, Us is very simply about an interesting, normal family that happens to be African-American. Just a few years ago, the same movie would likely have been made with entirely white faces, so this is a welcome step forward, revolutionary in its own quiet way.

So while many will measure Us to Get Out and find it wanting, others will realize that no measuring is necessary, and that Us is very simply a tense, startling, and wildly entertaining movie.

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