Us, the highly anticipated second feature from writer/director Jordan Peele, is brilliant in some respects; but overreaches with its metaphor laden plot. The first act is a masterstroke of suspense and terror. What follows is a confounding resolve that borders on absurd. Us had me initially spellbound, then frankly disappointed by the bewildering reveals. Lupita Nyong'o carries the film with two phenomenal performances. She is intensity personified. Us will certainly stir conversation. This review is spoiler free.
Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong'o), her husband Gabe (Winston Duke), their two children, Jason (Evan Alex) and Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) arrive in Santa Cruz for a family vacation. They are all looking forward to a fun getaway with their close friends (Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker). Several bizarre incidents trigger a traumatic memory from Adelaide's past. She is agitated and uneasy when both families visit the beach.
Later that night, Adelaide's nerves are causing panic. She wants to leave their rental house immediately, much to the consternation of Gabe. Her intuition proves to be correct. Jason informs his parents that a family is standing outside in their driveway. When Gabe investigates the shadowy figures, he's terrified to see they are his family's doppelgangers. The Wilsons fight for survival against a sadistic enemy, themselves.
The first forty-five minutes of Us will have you on the edge of your seat. Much like Jordan Peele's amazing debut, Get Out, you wonder where the hell is this story going? The creepiness factor builds to explosive expectations. The Wilsons and their frightening, red-suited, scissors-wielding doppelgangers, engage in a bloody game of cat and mouse. This is scary stuff, especially when the individual characters square off against their mysterious counterparts. Peele's camera work, use of lighting, and music shows his tremendous skill as a filmmaker. Us comes out swinging in its first act.
The film veers in a completely unexpected direction. As the answers trickle out, it dawned on me what Jordan Peele was trying to say with this story. There's a lot going on philosophically here. The "shadows" have a purpose, which makes sense, but isn't exactly entertaining. By this point, Us strays too far from the visceral scares that made the beginning successful. Peele's script marginalizes several characters in a situation that's implausible. I'll call it the teens running blindly in the woods moment. Us loses gravitas when it should be the most impactful.
The Wilsons are the heroes and villains. Each character's doppelganger is sinister and harrowing. Jordan Peele wisely concentrates the dialogue on the adult actors. The children have speaking lines when playing the good, but are quiet and deadly menacing as the others. Peele's script explains why this is so, but there are sizable plot holes to his reasoning. Lupita Nyong'o enthralls as prey and predator. She embodies fear, agony, and retribution as a mother who will protect her children at all costs. Her turn as the antagonist is equally adept. The other's harsh voice and piercing eyes will send shivers down your spine. Nyong'o is amazing in this film. It's her best work since winning the Oscar for Twelve Years a Slave.
Us is a bold film. I appreciate its artistry, acting, and fearsome open, but had serious issues with the conclusion. It felt silly and nonsensical. Yes, there are many themes open to interpretation. Some will wax philosophical, Us didn't interest me enough in the end to care. It's not on par with Get Out. Us is a Blumhouse and Monkeypaw production with distribution by Universal.