Review by LL Soares
Like a lot of people, I loved Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, GET OUT (2017), and it’s amazing how much that movie has already become part of the cultural landscape. The spoon clinking on the sides of that teacup. The Sunken Place. The movie has resonated and become part of pop culture. So, no matter what his next movie was, it was going to be hard to top the success of GET OUT.
US (which Peele wrote and directed, as he did with GET OUT) is interesting in that it’s a very different kind of story. It’s still a horror movie, and personally I’m happy to see that he’s continuing to work in the genre. But where GET OUT was more of a straightforward narrative, going from Point A to Point B, US is something else. Not everything will be answered this time to everyone’s satisfaction. That said, I enjoyed it a lot.
Like GET OUT and its creepy opening scene of Lakeith Stanfield getting abducted while walking around an upper-class white neighborhood, US also start out ominously, showing us a family at a boardwalk amusement park in 1986. While Mom (Anna Diop, currently playing Starfire in the DC Comics series TITANS) goes to the bathroom and Dad (Yahya Abdul-Manteen II, who most recently played Black Manta in AQUAMAN) is occupied playing “Whack-a-Mole,” their young daughter wanders off the boardwalk and into a funhouse on the beach. Inside the hall of mirrors, the girl, named Adelaide (Madison Curry) finds herself alone and lost when the lights go out. While trying to find an exit, she bumps into another little girl who looks like her.
We then move to present day, where the grown Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o of 12 YEARS A SLAVE, 2013, and BLACK PANTHER, 2018) is on her way to Santa Cruz with her family, to visit her husband Gabe’s (Winston Duke, also in BLACK PANTHER and AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, 2018) old stomping grounds. The two also have a daughter, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and a son, Jason (Evan Alex). They are staying at a cabin which belongs to Gabe’s family, and he wants to go to the beach to hang out with his old friend Josh Tyler (Tim Heidecker of the Adult Swim series TIM AND ERIC AWESOME SHOW, GREAT JOB, and the movie THE COMEDY, 2012) his wife Kitty (Elizabeth Moss of MAD MEN and the Hulu series THE HANDMAID’S TALE), and their twin teenage daughters, Becca and Lindsey (Cali and Noelle Sheldon). Adelaide clearly does not want to go to the beach, but Gabe talks her into it. Before they leave, Gabe shows off that he got a speedboat, which he rides around in the lake behind the cabin.
After hanging out with Josh and Kitty, who mostly just drink on the beach, the family heads back to the cabin, and then things start getting weird.
It’s not long until they notice what looks like another family standing at the end of their driveway. Two adults and two kids are just standing there, holding hands and making a human chain (like the “Hands Across America” commercial we see in the first part of the film). Gabe tries to intimidate them into leaving, but they don’t move. In fact, when they do move, they become downright hostile, charging the house. Adelaide and her family try to keep them out, but they break in, and immediately take over as the aggressors here. Then we notice something weird. The intruders look just like the members of Adelaide’s family (and they’re led by a woman who looks just like her). Adelaide’s doppelganger (named Red in the credits) is the only one who can speak, in a wheezy rasp. The rest of Red’s family can only communicate in grunts.
Each doppleganger goes after their corresponding family member, leaving Red and Adelaide alone in the living room. And then the family begins what becomes a fight for their lives.
Why do these strangers look just like Adelaide and her family? What do they want? Where did they come from? Well, I don’t really want to go into too much detail about these things, because US is full of narrative twists and turns. The movie does a good job of building suspense throughout and maintaining a tone of dread.
There are also references to other movies tucked into the script, mostly genre flicks from the 80s, from the Santa Cruz Boardwalk (previously seen in THE LOST BOYS, 1987) to THE SHINING (1980, like those twin daughters of the Tylers), to C.H.U.D. (1984) and Michael Haneke’s FUNNY GAMES (1997).
Some people have been finding the final third of the film to be disappointing and/or confusing, which makes things difficult here, because I really don’t want to give too much away. But I dug the movie throughout. I thought the acting was terrific (especially Lupita Nyong’o, who is pretty much the star of the film) and the suspense consistently engaging. There’s also a great score by Michael Abels and strong cinematography by Mike Gioulakis.
It deals with bigger themes than GET OUT, and isn’t as clear-cut as that film. Despite that, I really enjoyed its ambition and imagery, and thought US was a strong follow-up to Peele’s debut.
Not everything in US works, but enough does to make it a thrilling ride. I give it three and a half knives.
© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares
LL Soares gives US — three and a half knives!