If you had told me five years ago that one of the two goofy guys who make up the comedy duo Key & Peele would turn out to be one of the best horror masterminds in film, I wouldn’t have known what to think. But even as a horror filmmaker, Jordan Peele is a funny guy, and his comedic roots are palpable in his feature film efforts “Get Out” (2017), and especially the recent film “Us.” But could he?
Peele’s Oscar-winning screenplay for “Get Out” proved he could really, legitimately cross over into dramatic work, but as we know, a filmmaker’s sophomore effort always holds the most pressure on proving their worth. My go-to example for this type of situation is Zach Braff, who became popular on the sitcom “Scrubs” (2001-10) and subsequently had a big reception for his directorial debut with “Garden State” (2004). But, that was pretty much it. With Peele’s second film, though, “Us” proves he has some mileage in him.
The film starts in 1986 and occasionally flips back and forth between that year and the current year, 2019. The protagonist is suburban mom Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o), who is secretly dreading her family going on vacation to Santa Cruz, California, which is the same place she experienced a traumatic incident three decades earlier as a child. Her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) thinks she’s overreacting and promises everything will be fine. But, of course, the complete opposite happens as soon as the sun goes down.
Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker co-star as Adelaide and Gabe’s close friends and fellow parents. Marvel fans will notice “Us” is Nyong’o’s and Duke’s second film together after “Black Panther” (2018), and they are even better here. Peele, though an Oscar winner for his writing, is more appropriate in the director’s chair. The visuals, soundtrack cues, and performances are top notch. If I had to nitpick one casting flaw, though, it’s that the little girl playing the role of Adelaide in flashbacks doesn’t look similar to Nyong’o.
The pop culture homages, political metaphors, and satire on modern culture found within “Us” are clever, and not too gimmicky for the most part. The third act does get a little hazy with the plot twists, but the stellar second act mostly makes up for it.