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Dustin Putman

Us  (2019)
3½ Stars
Directed by Jordan Peele.
Cast: Lupita Nyong'o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Madison Curry, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Anna Diop, Cali Sheldon, Noelle Sheldon.
2019 – 116 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for violence/terror and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, March 21, 2019.
The dreaded sophomore slump is nowhere to be found in "Us," writer-director Jordan Peele's hair-raising follow-up to 2017's "Get Out." That film—a blistering satire delving into the festering disease of cross-generational racism and prejudice—introduced a major new voice within the horror genre. Instead of repeating himself, Peele has conjured another fresh and frightening vision with altogether different but no less pertinent intentions. Viewers searching for easily digestible entertainment may be left bewildered by the harrowing, thematically suggestive places the story and characters go. For the rest of us, there is a veritable treasure trove of ideas and angles upon which to digest and analyze. Indeed, with each new challenging implication, the film deepens and unsettles all the more. This is a consequentially powerful piece of work.

Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong'o) has come to stay at her family's summer home with husband Gabe (Winston Duke), daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph), and son Jason (Evan Alex), but upon arriving she is unable to escape the ball of anxiety building within her. Their visit to the same Santa Cruz beach where she once suffered a traumatic childhood event is bad enough, but a series of uncanny occurrences and eerie coincidences suggest something particularly wicked is headed their way. Before Adelaide can convince Gabe to pack their bags and hit the road, her worst nightmare comes true: evil doppelgängers of the foursome arrive to invade their home and steal their very lives.

The less known about "Us" going into it, the better. Working on one's emotions while shredding one's nerves, the film clenches itself around the throat like a pair of sharpened scissors, threatening at any moment to make that one lethal slice. The 1986 prologue—nostalgic of its era before sending a young Adelaide (Madison Curry) into the fateful mouth of a beachfront funhouse called Shaman's Vision Quest—is a thunderously creepy attention-grabber. Meanwhile, an opening television commercial promoting the idealistic Hands Across America campaign is certain to transport viewers of a certain age back in time even as the method to Jordan Peele's ingenious madness remains as yet unclear. How he builds upon his setup is rather remarkable, barreling far beyond home-invasion tropes to find a cast of characters whose lethal circumstances have coalesced with lifetimes of tethered privilege and disenfranchisement, deception and resentment.

Lupita Nyong'o (2018's "Black Panther") anchors the mounting terror with a realistic introverted gravitas as Adelaide, a fiercely protective mother who has always known, deep down inside, this day would come. Her performances—both as Adelaide and her double, credited as Red—find a stirring complexity in much the same way as Peele's momentously brazen screenplay. Nyong'o is joined by an impeccably cast ensemble. As Gabe, Winston Duke (2018's "Avengers: Infinity War") has the part of the loving but corny dad down pat. Newcomers Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex are terrific as the terrified Zora and Jason, finding a bravery inside themselves they never knew they had. And Elisabeth Moss (2015's "Queen of Earth"), as chatty, passive-aggressively unhappy family friend Kitty Tyler, is a brash, layered standout in a key supporting role.

Duplicitous yet unsuspectingly human, "Us" is an expertly crafted cinematic hall of mirrors drenched in sinister, provocative portent. Deep-diving explorations into the sheer scope of the picture's many, many meanings, metaphors and Easter eggs are certain to be written, and deservedly so. The film, operating on a higher level than most, is intensely disquieting, and then, by its final minutes, something more—an aching, scary, tragic fable for our troubled times, pitting one fearful Other against another while shrewdly blurring the line between hero and villain. Stripped down to our bare essentials, what are all of us but deeply flawed, profoundly messy, beautifully mortal beings?
© 2019 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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