Jordan Peele

Us

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A family takes a trip to their vacation home to unwind. An impromptu trip to Santa Cruz forces the mother to remember childhood trauma. Unfortunately, that trauma follows the family home when they are visited by a deadly family of doppelgängers. Outside their door, people everywhere are being attacked by people who look just like them. The family will have to face off against their look-a-likes in order to survive.

This is only the second feature film written and directed by Jordan Peele, but with this film he has solidified his status as a master of horror. After the success of the Oscar-winning hit, Get Out, Peele decided to go in a different direction with Us. In this film, every American has a doppelgänger who lives underground. These people decided it’s their time to live in the sun and venture out to kill their topside look-a-likes. When the doppelgängers come for the Wilson family, the audience sees something a bit different. The danger is even more grave, and the doppelgängers are absolutely terrifying. The entire premise is disturbing and has edge-of-your-seat tension from start to finish. Peele perfectly breaks up some of that tension with hilariously timed humor. It gives the audience a small bit of relief in the most intense moments without fully taking them out of the moment.

On the surface the film is a thrillingly murderous ride, but upon deeper inspection there is also an interesting social message. Peele is known for including racial issues in Get Out. Now, with Us, Peele explores issues of socioeconomic classes. He includes many different layers to convey this message, some being more obvious than others. The social message combined with subtle clues and Easter eggs throughout the film have come to be a signature of Peele’s filmmaking style. It gives Us a sense of longevity; the more you think about it, the more everything makes sense and the more you watch the film the more details you notice that you may have missed before. Many of these smaller details offer clues for the audience that reveal the various twists and turns the plot takes. If you pay close enough attention to these clues you might be able to figure out certain aspects of the film before they’re revealed. The only potential downside to Peele’s filmmaking style is that certain aspects of the plot may require a bit of research after watching the film in order to make sense of it. More dedicated cinephiles won’t mind this, as they likely do it anyways, but the more casual movie-goers could see this is an annoyance.

The single most compelling aspect of Us is the array of fantastic performances from every single actor. These performances are all the more amazing because almost everyone plays two characters. The shining star of the film is Lupita Nyong’o (Black Panther, 12 Years a Slave) as both Adelaide and her look-a-like Red. Nyong’o’s portrayal of both characters is truly spectacular. Adelaide is a very cautious person after her childhood trauma, and it is that mentality that makes her more prepared for the danger coming for her family. Red is also different from the other doppelgängers and that difference is almost immediately noticeable. The intensity behind Nyong’o’s portrayal of Red is absolutely haunting. Her performance as both characters is so perfect it’s difficult to pick which portrayal I enjoy more. The rest of the Wilson family is also made of of great performances. Winston Duke (Black Panther, Person of Interest) plays Gabe and Abraham, Shahadi Wright Joseph (Hairspray Live!) plays Zora and Umbrae, and Evan Alex (Mani) plays Jason and Pluto. All of them do a stunning job of clearly portraying two different characters that are connected, yet one is much more primal and animalistic than the other.

There are many great stylistic choices made throughout the film. The first one audiences will likely notice is the use of music. Peele tends to use music throughout the film to inject humor into various parts of the film. The songs used are already iconic and well known, but the way he uses them will stand out in the audiences’ minds even after the film ends. The costumes and hair also add an interesting visual element to the film. Specifically, the doppelgängers all have an iconic outfit they all wear that makes them stand out. They even all have a signature weapon in the form of large golden scissors. The doppelgängers all have an unkept look to them. Their hair is messy or greasy, their skin is ashen and pale, they have dark circles under their eyes. The overall look helps to reinforce the mythology behind these characters created by Peele.

Us stabs through the supposed “sophomore slump,” allowing Peele to give audiences a bloody and tension filled film with an underlying social message. In all honesty, this is a very difficult film to review without getting into layers and layers of spoilers. If you pay attention to the cleverly hidden clues, then the film will not only make more sense, but it will also allow the audience to figure things out before they happen. After watching the film, I highly recommend reading through the numerous articles that dissect these clues, then see the film again and again. This is a film that will definitely improve with each watch because of those small details. Combine that with the absolutely perfect performances and the result is an award-worthy film that proves Peele is a talented filmmaker. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10*

*Clarification of my score: Based on the review I gave the film, my number rating may seem low. This is the rating I would give the film based on my initial reaction leaving the theater. I took a few days to think about the film and research a few things before writing this review, so even now I would rate the film higher than my initial reaction.  As I said before, this is a film that gets better over time and with more viewings. 

Get Out

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A talented young black photographer goes on a trip with his white girlfriend to meet her family. Once they arrive at the luxurious and secluded estate, he notices that the only other black people in the area serve the rich white families. Even more strange is their behavior. After one of the few black residents snaps and screams for the young photographer to get out, it becomes clear that there is something much more sinister going on in this quiet little town.

In recent years there has been a rise in traditionally comedic writers breaking their way into the horror genre. We saw Diablo Cody do it with Jennifer’s Body, Kevin Smith did it with Red State and Tusk, and soon we will see Danny McBride do it for a new Halloween film. Get Out is not only Jordan Peele’s first dive into writing a horror film, but it is also his directorial debut. Along with those who preceded him, Peele does an amazing job of creating a dark and twisted film that is still heavily laced with humor.

Like many horror films that are also humorous, Peele focuses on a social issue and then exaggerates to the point of being satirical. Get Out focuses on a young black man meeting his white girlfriend’s apparently racist family and all of their racist friends. That isn’t a new idea that audiences haven’t seen, but Peele takes it a step further creating something exciting, unique, and darkly funny. I won’t go into too much detail, but Peele does a great job of giving the audience clues throughout the film leading up to the climax and a few great surprises. Another interesting thing to note is that, while this film focuses on white people being racist against black people, it manifests differently than you would expect. Again, I will spare further details because it may spoil a few surprises, but you will understand what I mean once you see the film. The only negative I can really say is that Peele attempts to include a few classic horror movie jump scares. They are clearly meant to startle the audience, but they fall short of actually scaring anyone.

This is a film where every actor, no matter the size of their part, does a tremendous job in their roles. Daniel Kaluuya (Sicario, Kick-Ass 2) is delightful as the lead, Chris. He is charming, funny, and fierce when he needs to be. For those who have read my reviews so far in 2017, you may have noticed two films I reviewed where I complained about British actors playing Americans and how I could hear British their accents break through. It is a major pet peeve of mine. Kaluuya is British, yet not once can you tell by listening to him speak. That alone gives him points for me. One surprise performance comes from Allison Williams (Girls, Peter Pan) as the girlfriend, Rose. In the past I have not been a fan of her acting, but Williams won me over in Get Out, especially in the second half of the film when things take a turn for the worst. There is one smaller role that really grabs my attention over and over again during the film. Betty Gabriel (The Purge: Election Year, Good Girls Revolt) blew me away as the housekeeper, Georgina. Gabriel’s performance is somehow unsettling and hilarious all at once. While these three stand out to me, there is truly not one actor in the film that I can think of who isn’t fantastic.

While the content of this film is not so subtle, the effects are. Virtually all of the practical effects are utilized during the climax of the film. The filmmakers make a wise decision in these scenes by not fully showing any kind of gore. There are clearly well done practical effects, but to keep the focus off the more unsightly things, the filmmakers never show them in full focus. Much of the events that necessitate practical effects occur just off camera or at an angle where you can clearly see what is going on without getting the full visual. While I enjoy a healthy amount of gore as much as the next horror fan, this method works for Get Out because it forces you to pay more attention to the events taking place rather than the amount of blood and guts. The only other special effects in the film create what is known as the “sunken space.” It gives the audience a compelling visual of what hypnotism looks like from within the mind of one who is being hypnotized.

The horror of Get Out is not only the events that take place, but also the racism that fuels these events. Jordan Peele skillfully takes on a serious social issue in a unique light that results in a thrilling film dripping with dark humor. I’m sure it’s no accident that Get Out is being released during Black History Month, especially in the current political climate. This film is dark, twisted, hilarious, exciting, mysterious, and incredibly well acted. People from a vast array of backgrounds and ages can enjoy Get Out because it has a little something for everyone. I have a feeling that Get Out will make my top ten of 2017 list at the end of the year.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10