By: Jessica Goddard
Jordan Peele’s sophomore effort Us is gripping and suspenseful at first, but loses steam as the story’s loose ends become hard to ignore.
Peele wastes no time introducing mystery at the top of the film. Us opens in 1986 on a boardwalk in Santa Cruz, where a typical family is celebrating a typical little girl’s birthday. Wandering off with a deliberateness that suggests the influence of strange, unknown forces at work, the birthday girl strays from her parents and ends up all alone in a spooky hall of mirrors just as it begins to pour rain. With her reflection surrounding her from every angle, she finally bumps up against another person – a spitting image of herself. And then we fast forward to the present day, unsure of what we’ve just seen.
In 2019, we meet Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) – the birthday girl all grown up – en route to the family cottage with her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and two kids: their teenage daughter Zora (Shahidi Wright Joseph), and younger son, Jason (Evan Alex). While Adelaide is paranoid about returning to the beach where she suffered her unidentified trauma back in ’86, Gabe convinces her it’ll be fine, and Adelaide spends their day at the beach on edge, noticing eerie coincidence after eerie coincidence. Night falls, and back at the cottage Adelaide can’t shake the feeling that something is about to happen – specifically that her doppelgänger from all those years ago is due to resurface and wants to cause her harm.
To Peele’s credit, once all this background is established, we’re thrown headfirst into action – the violence, the chaos, the thrills. It’s the youngest character, Jason, that kicks things off with an innocent observation: “There’s a family in our driveway.” Indeed, there is. The Wilson family’s unkempt doppelgängers have come to terrorize their counterparts; psychologically at first, with an apparent end goal to take their lookalikes’ lives.
The rest of what follows is exciting enough at first. But once you get a sense of the movie’s rules, much of the suspense kind of falls away to predictability. The story is original, but in this case the caveat to overflowing creativity is that Us throws a lot of ideas your way without taking the time to make sure they fit together coherently. Unfortunately for fans of Peele’s 2017 breakout hit Get Out, Peele’s follow-up is without the same impressively tidy quality; the internal logic of Us doesn’t seem to have been as carefully prioritized.
That said, Us is enjoyable in many ways. It is unsurprisingly funny, and the use of music (see: violins) is an obvious highlight. Lupita Nyong’o gives this performance her all, to great effect. And what the film lacks in clarity and precision, it makes up for with a feast of sensory thrills that are not easily forgotten.
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Jessica Goddard: @TheJGod