In just a few weeks, the Jordan Peele produced update to “The Twilight Zone” is going to launch. It is impossible to know that fact and not look at Peele’s newest film, “Us,” and see it as him doing an extended episode of the series, which is in no way a bad thing. “The Twilight Zone” has, arguably, produced some of the greatest television episodes ever made. They stay with you long after you’re done watching them, forcing you to mull them over repeatedly. This is why the series has remained in the public consciousness for so long and has gone through so many updates/reboots since it originally aired.
In the most basic description, Peele’s “Us” finds a family of four—Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), Gabe (Winston Duke), Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph), and Jason (Evan Alex)—attacked in their summer home by doppelgängers. Not only do they have to stay alive, they have to figure out exactly what is going on and why.
Although Peele builds the home invasion sequence deftly, ratcheting up the tension and slowly releasing some before having it build again, it is what takes place after those tense moments that make this a movie that lingers in your thoughts. There are a series of twists and turns as the larger story comes into focus, and while they might not all be convincing, they are all engrossing.
“Us” is a beautiful example of how a movie can hold onto its secrets until the very end without frustrating and losing the audience along the way. It is an utterly gripping film, one that plants you in your seat and compels you to just watch, not move, not shift around, just watch.
Nyong’o, having to play two main characters, more than delivers. These are two powerful performances where if either failed the movie would crumble. They are also, while mirror images of each other, two very distinct people, and each is readily identifiable by more than just clothes and hair. Duke and many others in the cast are also tasked with playing individuals and their doppelgängers, and everyone excels at it. In fact, every cast member—a list which also includes Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker—hit just the right tone.
Naturally, no small amount of time in the movie is spent with the audience wondering where and how these doppelgängers came to be, and while it would be criminal to ruin the reveals in a review, I will state that the answers are utterly intriguing but not fully explored. “Us” hits that semi-satisfying level where the mysteries are partially opened but not fully revealed. That is, the answers presented to the audience make sense, but lead to so many more questions, questions that will never be answered. It is also true that any answer Peele would provide would be unsatisfactory, but perhaps that indicates a larger problem with the film’s structure and story.
Despite that, it is gripping, and it is clear that Peele is thinking about a bigger picture; that the movie is operating on multiple levels. It is not just about these mirror images of this family. It is not just about one moment in the life of young Adelaide (Madison Curry) and how it forever changed her. It is not just about her upbringing and how that has influenced her parenting. It is about all of that and more. It is a film that questions our lives and the way we live them, and about the inverse of our choices and that which is left behind.
Having all of that crammed into two hours is a feat, and adding both laughs and chills on top of it is even better. Peele is more than a deliberate filmmaker with a deep thought process and set of ideas that he wants to get out. He is a filmmaker who can do all of that while grabbing the audience by the throat in the opening minutes of a movie and not letting them go for the next two hours.
Is “Us” perfect? No, far from it. It is, however, a worthy follow-up to “Get Out.” It shows that Peele’s work in that earlier film was no fluke and it promises so many great things to come in his future endeavors. If that’s not exciting, I don’t know what is.
photo credit: Universal Pictures