Review: ‘Us’ is a new masterpiece that blends horror and comedy

by James Cronin | 3/26/19 2:10am

It’s been a while since I’ve been as excited to see a movie as I was to see “Us,” the new film directed, written and produced by Jordan Peele. Like millions of people, I was blown away by how unexpectedly good Peele’s 2017 film “Get Out” was, so I came in to “Us” with high expectations, looking for something just as thought-provoking and well-constructed. While I don’t think that “Us” has “Get Out” beat, I still think it’s a fantastic, smart film that should be watched by everyone looking to walk out of a movie theater all giddy — like you used to before everything became a reboot or a third sequel in a franchise. I enjoyed it so much that I gladly paid to see it twice this past weekend.

“Us” stars Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex as the Wilsons, a family on vacation who are confronted by evil doppelgangers. I could explain more, but trust me, going into this film as blind as possible will make the viewing experience all the better. “Us” is a movie that’ll defy your expectations because it’s so unique in the best of ways.

The performances — so key in a movie where nearly every actor plays two versions of themselves — were fantastic. Nyong’o delivers not one, but two stellar, Oscar-worthy performances ­— some of the best I’ve seen in recent memory. Duke, who you might recognize as M’Baku from “Black Panther,” does a great job going between being appropriately terrified and providing the film with some cathartic comedic relief. All of the child actors did as good a job as any director could have wanted. Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss, who play friends of the Wilson family, have a hilarious rapport and deliver some of the best laughs in the film. Moss made an especially strong impression in her short screen time.

While I think this movie is technically perfect in all aspects of direction, there are some parts of the script that irked me. The reveals toward the end of the movie were most definitely awesome in the most literal sense of the word, but below the surface there are some logistical plot holes that were kind of hard to ignore. I’m conflicted because I love this movie, but Peele asks the audience to make some pretty large leaps. The question I’ve been asking myself is, “Does it matter if the last 20 minutes make perfect sense?” That might sound like an obvious yes, but regardless, I had a wonderful experience and was able to chat excitedly with my friends afterwards about our interpretations of the film’s meaning. Thematically, the message of “Us” got across — assuming I understood it correctly — so I can’t fault an otherwise airtight, amazing script for minor things like logistics. The script, despite its flaws, was still overwhelmingly compelling and fresh. 

On my first viewing, I thought the tone was a bit all over the place. More than once, a dramatic moment was undercut by an admittedly funny but seemingly inappropriately-timed joke. This didn’t detract from the movie for me, but it did leave me a little confused. On my second watch, I came to admire how effortlessly Peele is able to perfectly skirt the line between comedy and horror. It was my fault for thinking I was watching a straight-up horror film, or for coming in to the movie with the preconceived notion that it’d be just like “Get Out.” “Us” is its own movie with its own tone, and that’s a very good thing. My heart rate spiked like crazy when Peele wanted it to, and I laughed when he wanted me to — a testament to his ability as a director.

One thing I absolutely loved about “Get Out,” which is also present in “Us,” is the sheer amount of tiny details you might think are inconsequential at first but either end up serving the plot in unexpected ways or give re-watches new meaning. Peele does such a good job at this that I’m now trained to believe that everything I see on screen in his movies has layers upon layers of hidden meaning. After the first watch, I racked my brain to figure out what everything I just saw meant. Seeing “Us” a second time gave everything new meaning and made it feel like I was watching a completely different movie. On both viewings, I was thoroughly engrossed for the entirety of the runtime as a result of Peele’s ability to command the viewer’s attention.

Peele has proven that he is not a one-trick pony. “Us” was chock-full of great cinematography and had a great soundtrack and score, as well as great editing. One scene in particular towards the end blew my mind. Watching this film is a visual feast in every way. With his well-earned reputation from “Get Out,” Peele had free reign to be as creative as possible. He very clearly nurtured the product of that creativity with great care. With both “Get Out” and “Us” now under his belt, he is quickly on his way to becoming an icon in the horror genre, and if his directing and writing ability can lend itself to other genres as well, he very well could be the best up-and-coming director of this generation.

This is the first movie in a while that left me excited even after it was over. It’s a difficult emotion to describe, but it’s that kind of magical feeling that you used to get when you were a kid and walked out of a theater, when everything was a new experience. It’s one of those movies that you argue with your friends about on the car ride home, discussing best parts, possible interpretations of the film’s subtext and the subtle but powerful details. Those are the best kind of movies for me — the ones that make me remember why I fell in love with film in the first place. “Us” felt literally refreshing, and because of that, I am able to say with total conviction that it will be hailed as one of the best movies of 2019.