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  • by Jeff Beck

Us: Jordan Peele's Bigger and Bolder Sophomore Effort

Lupita Nyong'o in "Us"

Just two years ago, noted comedian Jordan Peele did something quite unexpected by delivering the strange little horror flick “Get Out,” which, while it did have its moments, was ultimately let down by sluggish execution and writing that just wasn’t on a high enough level to bring his idea to fruition. However, the film showed that Peele did indeed have some talent in the genre, making one hope that he would try his hand at another horror film in an attempt to deliver something strong and memorable. This brings us to his sophomore effort, the simply-titled “Us,” which has Peele attempting to go bigger and bolder than he did before. There’s no doubt that the ambition is there, but was two years enough to improve upon the issues he succumbed to last time, or is this merely a case of déjà vu?

As the film opens in 1986, we join young Adelaide at a beach amusement park with her family. While her mother is in the bathroom, and her father is distracted with a game, she wanders off to a house of mirrors where she happens to meet a little girl that looks just like her. Flash forward to present day, where adult Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o), her husband Gabe (Winston Duke), and their two children, Zora and Jason (Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex), are vacationing at a beach house. Adelaide is still traumatized by her experience from so many years ago, but she reluctantly agrees to join her family for a trip to the Santa Cruz beach with their friends. However, that night, she decides that it’s too much and that she wants to go home, but before she can even discuss it with her husband, a bizarre situation begins to unfold: a family of four, who look very much like the Wilsons, force their way in and begin to terrorize them. Thus begins their nightmare of trying to survive against people who will stop at nothing to see them dead.

When it comes to Jordan Peele’s second horror outing, there is a fair amount to admire. As mentioned, Peele has clearly gone bigger and bolder in the narrative for this latest feature, encompassing an idea that most will find quite intriguing (No doubt that sounds rather vague, but in order to avoid spoilers, and thus allowing the film to have the maximum impact, it’s necessary to leave out some of the details). The concept that Peele is working with here is a fascinating one that will have many thinking as to its metaphorical meaning and how it uses social commentary to say a little more than most other horror movies, similar to his use of subtext in his debut feature.

“Us” does indeed have a little more on its mind than your typical horror film, but unfortunately, in the process of trying to deliver more impactful commentary, Peele neglected to think his intriguing concept all the way through, resulting in a plot that brings up a plethora of questions that he’s just not willing to answer, questions that he would probably be pretty hard-pressed to answer if he tried (this is where it gets really difficult to remain vague without giving the game away). That’s not to say that great horror films haven’t forced the viewer to ask questions before, but when the questions all revolve around a multitude of holes in the plot, it merely makes it harder to care about the commentary or what’s going on on the screen, thus hindering the enjoyment of the film.

Nevertheless, there are still elements of the film that stand out as being highly admirable. Once again, Peele shows that he is an incredibly talented director, skillfully composing scenes, and providing the film with hefty amounts of intensity and thrills. As with “Get Out,” there is a good amount of humor to be found throughout, giving a few brief respites from the struggle to stay alive against a relentless enemy. There’s also a wonderful cast that is headlined by Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave”), who, like several castmembers, had to pull double duty by portraying themselves and their doppelgangers, a task that was no doubt exhilarating and challenging.

However, despite these distinctive elements, it’s fair to say that “Us” is probably about on par with “Get Out,” if not just a little weaker. The latter simply messed with the audience a little too much while refusing to develop the story and characters for the majority of its runtime, but “Us” is the kind of movie that, while you can admire the craft and skill that went into it, will leave you scratching your head as to how Peele thought any of it was plausible, and yes, this is taking “suspension of disbelief” into account. It was another intriguing effort on his part (again, you have to appreciate his strange, bold, and inventive ideas), but in the end, perhaps it’s going to be best to see him invest that wonderfully creative energy in the upcoming reboot of “The Twilight Zone.” 2.5/4 stars.

Starts tomorrow evening in theaters everywhere.

Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.

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