Us (****) – Tethered to fear

Written and Directed by Jordan Peele
Starring Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Shahadi Wright, Evan Alex

And with Us, we have proof of a near perfect genius movie maker. Jordan Peele made one of the best movies of 2017 with Get Out. His followup is more eagerly anticipated by this viewer than any director outside of David Fincher, Mira Nair or Jeff Nichols. Unlike some directors that take a step forward and then make one for the masses, Jordan Peele appears to be thriving in the pressure. Instead of making a surefire mainstream movie, he shows he may just not know how to be anything more than a skewed genius that seems conventional.

Adelaide Wilson (Nyong’o) is with her heading to Sana Cruz. They are on vacation to the family summer home. Her husband (Duke) and two children (Wright Joseph and Alex) meet up with the Tylers (Moss, Heidecker) and their two kids. Their friends are really not the kind of folks one would want to spend their free time with, but the feeling is mutual at least. For both families, it’s just a circumstance of habit by now.

On the first night there, they receive visitors. Soon enough they’re in a struggle for their lives. That’s enough of a description of the visitors. The family members are each tested at their own level.

All of them react well, except for Duke’s patriarch. Showing little forethought and even less fortitude, he suffers some staggering early losses and then just kind of ekes along. It is an astonishing disappointment when he seems about as useful as a Disney Dad. This almost breaks one out of the absolutely intense buildup from the moment we first see the visitors. Still aside from the first 20 minutes of conflict, Duke is a delight.

Daughter Zora and son Joseph find more interesting matches. Zora is put to the most interesting test, when she is set to run for her life. This section feels right out of Halloween. In her initial state of shock, there is no way she can escape. Is there?

Joseph is somewhat the Danny Torrance of the family. We know there is something about him that is unique, especially when we see his reaction to the first evidence of there being something amiss early on the beach. We know what’s coming, and we’re somewhat scared. He doesn’t seem to register the fear we feel. By the time we arrive at the climax, we know from the journey he experienced, he can see a different side of things.

We all know, however, this is Nyong’o’s movie. Her Adelaide is a beautiful, haunted and perceptive soul. She knows something is coming, and she responds the best to each coming crisis. Her reaction will be intuitively obvious once you’ve digested the prelude of the film. That will not be shared here. Her cycle of emotions is the most complete. Her progression is the farthest reaching. The sheer range of the performance at every level is incredible. Her character depth and development is in the Weaver / Ripley range.

As a thriller, Peele shows that Get Out is not a fluke. His ability to lace the unnerving horror with some incredible bits of humor that forces us to laugh while wincing. The film is a further example of the Director’s classic ability to get the most out of every scene in a series of slow, deliberate placement of essential building blocks that might seem innocuous until called upon later. His skill is almost unparalleled.

The film is not a classic, though it is incredibly good. The predictability of the film outweighs the quirky, threadbare premise that we’re supposed to take on faith. I just can’t believe there are that many subways that have been abandoned, yet so clean, for so long. Even though this film makes me want to believe.

If you want to be scared intensely, for a long stretch of time. If you want to laugh though every instinct tells you to run, see this movie.

(**** out of *****)

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