Jordan Peele—known previously mainly as an actor and comedian—is rapidly proving himself to be a director who can make crazy feel real on screen.
That started with “Get Out” and continues in a much larger way with “Us,” a full-fledged horror film that starts scaring early and never lets up.
What’s distinguished Peele so far is the way he manages to mix so many disparate moments into his films, and “Us” is no exception.
It is by turns scary, funny, silly, heartfelt, bizarre, violent and touching, sometimes shifting from one to another in an instant.
No, this second major film of Peele’s doesn’t always make perfect sense, and it takes a long time to understand the underlying framework of the tale he’s telling.
But from the film’s early moments when you meet a young girl named Adelaide in a flashback of a terrifying encounter at a beachfront boardwalk, “Us” brings a weird vibe and a scary tension. That travels quickly to present day time when an older Adelaide (Lupita Nyong'o) is now a wife and mother.
Adelaide’s nervousness is understandable when the family--husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and their two kids—soon enough wind up at the very same beach on a vacation trip.
Peele is not what you’d call light-handed as a director or writer—yes, he wrote and also produced—and there are hints all over that something dark and evil is coming.
Like the guy holding a sign about the impending end of the world, and another man dripping blood from his fingers out on the beach.
But the horror, tension and even humor really crank up when the family is visited at the house where they’re staying by four people in red suits who turn out to be the somewhat disfigured doppelgangers of each family member.
These evil doppelgangers, who have scissors are their terrifying weapons of choice, toy with Adelaide and her family for a while, until it becomes clear things are going to turn violent.
Then Adelaide, Gabe and the two kids each square off separately against their mirror image. Peele is smart about the way this happens, the violent confrontations revealing something about the strengths and weaknesses of each of them.
Of course, the thing all viewers are wondering from the first moment the doppelgangers appear is simple: who the heck are these psychopaths and what are they after?
That question eventually gets answered, though in truth, it’s not really the film’s strong suit. It all eventually makes a sort of hazy sense, though the sweep and intent of what turns out to be a major revolt by doppelgangers wearing red isn’t what drives the tale.
Instead, what really powers this effectively frightening film is the nightmare roiling in Adelaide, and eventually, the way it shows just what each family member—and write large, any person—is capable of to survive. His point is that there's a darkness in all of "Us."
It also can’t be emphasized enough what an amazing job Nyong'o does as Adelaide, the transition she undergoes from terrified individual to tiger mom no easy thing to pull off.
And while the story surely is scary, Peele seems a master at mixing in humor, odd moments and personality quirks in his characters to make them real and likable even in moments that couldn’t ever be real.
The best example of that is Winston’s Gabe, probably the most lovable goofball to show up on screen for a while.
He’s also great at creating characters to lampoon human frailties and types he wants to ridicule, like the spoiled, rich family of one of Gabe’s coworkers.
It must be emphasized that this movie won’t be for everyone. Before all is said and done, people are brutally stabbed, whacked in the head, flung into a tree from a car, chopped up by the propeller of a boat and more.
And while that’s not pleasant to watch, Peele is smart enough to mostly keep the blood-letting brief, moving on quickly to the next action.
He’s truly a different sort of director who has brought a fresh and unique style to the big screen, something to celebrate in any year.
Rated R for violence/terror, and language. 116 min. [MC, PV, RF]