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Movie Review: Us

Us hits all of the sweet spots

Directed by Jordan Peele
In Theatres

I don't even know where to start with Us, the new Jordan Peele film. It's smart, thrilling, exciting, intense, and funny. It makes the heart beat faster, it makes us hold our breath, it makes grown men yell expletives in a crowded theatre. It's a masterclass in film craft. It may not be as intimate as Get Out but Us may be a more entertaining and subversive film. And it will most definitely be a more decisive film than Get Out. 

Us is the kind of film where people start talking about what they just saw as the credits roll. It's the kind of film where you just need to talk about what you just saw, your brain just needs to process and digest and make sense of what you just experienced. Us is a roller coaster of emotions and experiences and it twists and turns and never takes the easy way. 

After a long winter, Us is the perfect way to bring in spring. A movie that works on the lizard part of our brain while it also tickles our need to solve riddles. 

Us begins with an understated prologue. It's 1986, a TV is on, we see the reflection of a little girl on the screen. Some VHS tapes sit on the stand. C.H.U.D., The Goonies, The Right Stuff. A promo for Hands Across America plays. Later that little girl is in Santa Cruz, at the boardwalk with her parents. She wanders off alone and finds herself in a hall of mirrors. And stuff happens. 

Years later, the grown up little girl returns with her family to Santa Cruz's beach and the omens and bad feelings and coincidences pile up and up. And then the home invasion from hell happens and the family is faced with their nightmare doppelgangers, dressed in red jump suits and carrying scissors. And stuff happens. 

Seeing how Jordan Peele and his team pieced this quilt together, with all of its horror and humour and paranoia and family moments, it is like watching a veteran master work at his craft. It's hard to fathom that this is only Mr. Peele's second film. His two films have a confidence and an understanding of film language and film history that is hard to find in the work of most of other directors, even the ones with much deeper IMDB pages. Is it a perfect film? Nah. There are a couple of threads that, if tugged a little too hard, could unravel the entire enterprise. But would it fit on WKBD's late night thriller programming? Oh, yes. Yes it would. And it would keep us up long after the credits rolled, watching ads for Mr. Microphone and listening to the "but, dad, it's Smokey!" guy. 

Like Get Out, Us has one foot firmly in 70s horror thriller, in its pacing, in its ramping up of tension. But Mr. Peele is also doing something new, something original. No good horror story has ever been just about its subject, they are all using metaphors to tell a larger story, to teach a larger lesson. It goes back to Mary Shelley using the creation of a monster to tell the story of her grief, of her fears of her husband, all the way to now with horror films telling stories of the paranoia of AIDS and strangers and racism and change hidden behind hockey masks and home invasions and monsters that hide in the shadows and those that hide in plain sight. But what Mr. Peele is doing goes deeper. The metaphors, while they seem to be obvious, might not be. Is Get Out a story of white guilt or is it of a black culture being assimilated? With Us, do the doppelgangers represent the dark side of human nature or do they represent a population of homeless that have been ignored for decades? Maybe they're the flip side of gentrification. While entertaining us, Jordan Peele is also making us use our brains. 

I can't get out of this thing without commenting on three things that push this film to the top. One is the score by Michael Abels. It is, in a word, amazing. As amazing as his score for Get Out. His music with Jordan Peele's visuals, that's the good stuff right there. It is arresting and both comforting and uncomfortable. It is, like I said before, amazing. 

Another thing to rave about is the cinematography of Mike Gioulakis. He shot It Follows, the movie where every single shot had to keep the audience on edge, where every person walking through the frame, no matter the distance away, could be the threat. There is a shot in Us where Adelaide is telling the story of what happened in her childhood to her husband. She is looking out a window, we see her reflection in the glass, her husband sitting behind her. And we see that she is talking to him, not to his reflection but through her reflection. It's a stunning, breathtaking scene. Us is stuffed to the brim with beautiful moments like that.

And now I have to rave about the cast. Winston Duke as Gabe Wilson is completely believable and hilarious as the source of dad jokes and false bravado. Elizabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker are note perfect as the barely functioning alcoholic friends of the Wilsons. But the performance that will be talked about for years to come is Lupita Nyong'o as Adelaide Wilson. As good as the other actors are at playing their doppelgangers, Ms Nyong'o creates two separate characters, each with their own nuances and subtleties. There are layers upon layers at work in her performance and she never once gets caught acting. It's hard to describe what she has achieved here, it has to be seen.  

What else can I say about Us? See it. See it now. Why are you still reading this? Why haven't you bought your ticket? Anyway. Look, fans of splatter, of torture porn, slasher flicks and body horror, they might not find much here. But for those of whose sweet spot is the psychological horror, the thriller, we will find lots to love in Us. 

A quick note before I let you go back to work or playing Words With Friends or checking on the royal baby or whatever. If you have Netlix you should definitely check out The Dirt. It's more entertaining, more moving, more fun than a movie about Motley Crue should be… Actually, scratch that. It is exactly as entertaining and moving and fun as a movie about Motley Crue should be. Sure, it feels rushed at times, and sometimes feels like a highlight reel of lowlife rockstar excess, but damn, it kicks where Bohemian Rhapsody should have. The Dirt, check it out.