Once upon a time, there was a girl and the girl had a shadow.
Jordan Peele set himself up for failure. The response to Get Out was so rapturous (and mostly deserved), that I certainly didn’t envy him the prospect of a sophomore film which was sure to be rabidly anticipated and greeted with high expectations. Certainly I fell into that camp of rabid anticipators and high-expectation havers. Well, look, I’m just going to say it; I think Peele’s really crafted another masterpiece with this brilliant film. He’s going for something a lot more amibitious here than the relatively hermetic setting of Get Out. As one might gather from the title, his first film is about a closed environment (albeit with larger societal echoes); as one might gather from the title, this film is about everyone, about an entire society. This film is also, at least from where I sit, far more frightening than Get Out. I mean, just in a visceral way. The nail-biting opening sequence had my heart thundering once we reached that darkened funhouse. And the central scene of the film, a scene of two families confronting each other in a strange home-invasion, is a masterpiece of ever tightening dread, suspense and terror. Peele just lets that sequence play out as slowly as it needs to and let’s just say that a moment when one character starts to slowly spin out a twisted kind of bedtime story is so far my scariest movie moment of the year. The performances have a lot to do with this. Lupita Nyong’o is a revelation in her dual role here and when I say that, I mean that I already knew she was a wonderful actress. But her performance here takes its place in the stars. Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss have particularly juicy supporting roles and they get some great moments, played to perfection. Shahadi Wright Joseph is also really good as the daughter of the two families, particularly in her villainous incarnation where she is incredibly creepy.
It's obvious Peele is wanting to get a whole host of things with this film and the tendency of content creators on the internet to nail things down into a catchy headline or a two minute video really rubs me the wrong way with this movie. Us isn’t a movie you should let anyone explain to you. It’s all there on the screen in Peele’s messy, weird-ass screenplay which isn’t afraid to let the power of metaphor and emotional symbolism paper over plot-holes that the literalists idiots won’t be afraid to drive trucks through. If you’re not willing to read film as an art-form that doesn’t need to be taken entirely literally, this is not going to be the movie for you and when I say that, I mean I’m not the one to talk to about it if you want to know, for instance, do the doubles have cars? Getting Peele to host the updated Twilight Zone is a good fit; this feels like a feature length episode of the series in a lot of ways. In the way it gets at big issues and ideas through the lens of a bizarre device that functions entirely of its own will. I will say that I saw the ending coming, but it doesn’t diminish the film; in fact, it kind of enriched it for me and that leads me to believe that a lot of people will be watching this movie a second time to see what it’s like when they know how the film ends. Regardless, if you want to be reductive, then no, this isn’t a realistic movie and I mean that in terms of it not behaving by the rules of, not our reality, but the movie’s own. But the visceral emotional experience, the intricately layered screenplay, the wonderful performances, Peele’s patiently methodical camera & the aching thoughts it leaves the viewer with . . . those things are more than enough to overcome any practical plot issues. This is a wild, strange, unsettling ride; there’s a signpost up ahead. And if it’s an ad for a Jordan Peele movie, you’re in the right place. 4 stars.
tl;dr – ambitious, messy, terrifying film is another masterpiece from the wild imagination of Jordan Peele; there are flaws here, but none of them matter. 4 stars.