Jordan Peele’s ‘Us’ Gets Bogged Down in Conventionality

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Rating: 3.0/5.0

CHICAGO – Like his first film, “Get Out,” writer/director Jordan Peele creates a horror/thriller filled with symbolism and laughs. Unlike “Get Out,” “Us” is awash in overly concentrated plot points, a reliance on lesser references and an ending that can be seen from outer space. It’s not sophomore “jinx,” but more like the sophomore “over think.”

The film tells its story more on the pursuit-and-confrontation style of horror/thriller than the more subtle social tale of “Get Out.” Psychologically, the story is more high concept than its predecessor, and its scares come from hitching to some pretty bizarre level science fiction. However, the same Peele lightness and fun are present, as well as a series of symbols that African American studies can put into their curriculum. Since the film’s main theme is duality, the issue of identity is front and center, and that always is a an interesting point of contemplation.

The film begins in 1986, the era of “Thriller” and “Hands Across America.” Adelaide, a young African American girl, is separated from her parents at a carnival, and gets lost in a house of mirrors. The reflection she sees in the chamber haunts her for years, despite using dance and art to help heal that fright. In present day, the grown Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) has a family which includes husband Gabe (Winston Duke), plus children Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex).

Mama Bear Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o, upper left) in ‘Us’
Photo credit: Universal Pictures

On vacation at their summer home, they meet up with friends Josh (Tim Heidecker) and Kitty (Elisabeth Moss), and their twin daughters. Later, an evening at home, the family also encounters an odd jumpsuit wearing reflection of themselves. These mirror-image folks begin an attack, which is linked to a secret society that is looking to escape their circumstances. This begins to happen all over the world.

Most of the film is taken up with the attack of the lookalikes, which include long sequences of chase, capture and confrontation. The doppelganger family has super strength like zombies, and are not above a bloody seems-like-a-death but suddenly they’re okay to attack again, like zombies. The point is the chase is much like a zombie movie, which is surprising considering how much Jordan Peele has proved he likes to twist conventions and even reject horror/thriller commonalities.

The lookalike raid is not just concentrated on the African American fam … whitey gets his due in the same way as the Heidecker/Moss clan become copied (although they give in to their pursuers much easier than the hero family). There is much more oddness in their lookalikes, so the consistency of purpose is different. These vague motivations are not really questioned, nor answered, but accepted as part of the high concept. It’s more like just a horror movie, rather than portraying the subtle layers of “Get Out.”

Company Comes to Call in ‘Us’
Photo credit: Universal Pictures

But the film is never boring, just overlong. One of the symbol weapons was golden scissors, and I wish Peele used then to cut the film one more time (zing!). And as mentioned, the metaphor-ists will have a field day picking this one apart – as was done with “Get Out.” Mainly, I think the dual image conceit is an ongoing African American debate … the difference between the “face” given to the assimilation in society (and acceptance by whites) and the more authentic face that expresses family history and culture. Let the definitions of the specific imagery commence.

There weren’t as many laugh-out-loud jokes in this film, more of a dark humor that landed in your funny sense depending on point of view. The real laughs came from the preview audience, yes, the venue commentary was in the full “look out behind you” mode of talking to the screen. And maybe that was Peele’s intention all along, to entertain ourselves as he was entertaining us.

“Us” opens everywhere on March 22nd. Featuring Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex. Written and directed by Jordan Peele. Rated “R” senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

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© 2019 Patrick McDonald,

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