Peele’s “Us” makes for a nail-biting thriller but falls short of its predecessor

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Jordan Peele’s sophomore film, “Us,” was a highly anticipated release following the success of his directorial debut “Get Out.” The film follows a family of four: Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and their two children, Zora and Jason. Peele, the writer, director and producer, crafts a chilling tale of evil doppelgangers that works with stark, sometimes comedic lines and continuously aesthetic camera work. While the tone, camera shots and acting performances are excellent, the film falls just short of the caliber that the genius “Get Out” set.

 

The film first follows the young Adelaide in 1986 as she trails behind her bickering parents at a pier. The audience views the almost overwhelming sounds (including the fight her parents are having) and lights of the carnival through the child’s point of view. Peele is a master at establishing tone through sound and camera work; the tone shifts from the overwhelming to the eerie as the sound subsides and the camera shots continue to follow Adelaide as she wanders off into a hall of mirrors. Madison Curry, who plays young Adelaide, delivers an incredibly believable and terrifying performance that foreshadows later developments. But despite good production value, the film has a rather slow start, even as it moves from Adelaide’s childhood to present day. Peele’s approach is to establish each character as a complex individual rather than immediately delving into horror. While working up to the action had its benefits in terms of quality and acting performances, it also had its drawbacks. Viewers who were hoping for intense scares are going to be sorely disappointed; “Us” is definitely more of a psychological thriller.

 

The shift from calm to frightening is abrupt; the sudden arrival of the doppelgangers signals the quickening of the pace and highlights the cast’s talents. Nyong’o maintains the tone with terrified facial expressions matching her frenzied movements. Her performance as the double is equally incredible and also the main source of terror: her voice, her expression, even her walk is downright scary. During this intense interaction, Duke relieves a bit of the tension through comedic relief. At times, he shares the screen with his sassy teen daughter, Zora, but his goofiness and ongoing slew of dad jokes make sure that the Peele’s comedian chops show through the spine-chilling excitement.

 

As the family is chased by their sinister doppelgangers, the tone switches again to frustrating paranoia as the Wilsons are split up and confront constant close calls. Once they are separated, they fight for survival; the gore is not excessive, but definitely enough to make the audience squeamish. Peele keeps the audience on the edge of their seats but once again makes sure to ease up the tension just enough for the film to have comic moments, sometimes conveyed just through the choice of background music.

 

Peele’s second film is certainly a great feat — he works all the tools at his disposal to make the film frightening enough to keep audiences invested, but unfortunately not frightening enough or as compelling as his directorial debut. The film is infinitely more impactful if one watches it with no expectations or knowledge of the plot beforehand. As the story unravels, the film gets progressively creepier and more interesting, but any prior knowledge of the story and its slow start almost detracts from the brilliance of the plot.

 

Jordan Peele’s sophomore film, “Us,” was a highly anticipated release following the success of his directorial debut “Get Out.” The film follows a family of four: Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and their two children, Zora and Jason. Peele, the writer, director and producer, crafts a chilling tale of evil doppelgangers that works with stark, sometimes comedic lines and continuously aesthetic camera work. While the tone, camera shots and acting performances are excellent, the film falls just short of the caliber that the genius “Get Out” set.

 

The film first follows the young Adelaide in 1986 as she trails behind her bickering parents at a pier. The audience views the almost overwhelming sounds (including the fight her parents are having) and lights of the carnival through the child’s point of view. Peele is a master at establishing tone through sound and camera work; the tone shifts from the overwhelming to the eerie as the sound subsides and the camera shots continue to follow Adelaide as she wanders off into a hall of mirrors. Madison Curry, who plays young Adelaide, delivers an incredibly believable and terrifying performance that foreshadows later developments. But despite good production value, the film has a rather slow start, even as it moves from Adelaide’s childhood to present day. Peele’s approach is to establish each character as a complex individual rather than immediately delving into horror. While working up to the action had its benefits in terms of quality and acting performances, it also had its drawbacks. Viewers who were hoping for intense scares are going to be sorely disappointed; “Us” is definitely more of a psychological thriller.

 

The shift from calm to frightening is abrupt; the sudden arrival of the doppelgangers signals the quickening of the pace and highlights the cast’s talents. Nyong’o maintains the tone with terrified facial expressions matching her frenzied movements. Her performance as the double is equally incredible and also the main source of terror: her voice, her expression, even her walk is downright scary. During this intense interaction, Duke relieves a bit of the tension through comedic relief. At times, he shares the screen with his sassy teen daughter, Zora, but his goofiness and ongoing slew of dad jokes make sure that the Peele’s comedian chops show through the spine-chilling excitement.

 

As the family is chased by their sinister doppelgangers, the tone switches again to frustrating paranoia as the Wilsons are split up and confront constant close calls. Once they are separated, they fight for survival; the gore is not excessive, but definitely enough to make the audience squeamish. Peele keeps the audience on the edge of their seats but once again makes sure to ease up the tension just enough for the film to have comic moments, sometimes conveyed just through the choice of background music.

 

Peele’s second film is certainly a great feat — he works all the tools at his disposal to make the film frightening enough to keep audiences invested, but unfortunately not frightening enough or as compelling as his directorial debut. The film is infinitely more impactful if one watches it with no expectations or knowledge of the plot beforehand. As the story unravels, the film gets progressively creepier and more interesting, but any prior knowledge of the story and its slow start almost detracts from the brilliance of the plot.

Verdict: While Peele works to keep a balance of comedy and unnerving thriller, his second film falls short of the tight, perfect balance that “Get Out” achieved. Nevertheless, “Us” deserves a watch for thriller-loving audiences and fans of Peele’s previous work alike.

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