Jordan Peele's 'Us': Horrific, but no 'Get Out'

Beachside vacations will never be the same for the Wilson family, not after the Night of the Living Dead African-Americans that director Jordan Peele has in store for them (and us) in “Us.”

Kids Zora and Jason (Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex) aren’t that excited about going to Santa Cruz in the first place, nor is their overprotective mom Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), who grew up with “issues” there. But nerdy, good-natured dad Gabe (Winston Duke) is gung-ho to link up with old friends Kitty and Josh (Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker) for fun in the sun.

What could go wrong, right?

Nothing until they settle in for the first night, when Jason removes the weird mask he wears everywhere and calmly announces, “There’s a family in our driveway.”




  • Starring: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss.
  • Rating: R for violence, terror and language.

After which, the electricity goes out. And Adelaide’s free-floating anxiety will be validated: The mysterious quartet, dressed in red jumpsuit overalls, look exactly like the four Wilsons. But each of them is equipped with a pair of gold scissors.

Adelaide, unlike the hapless heroines of a hundred other home-invasion horror tales, is no fool. She immediately calls 911. But they put her on hold.

Gabe grabs a baseball bat and shifts into macho gear: “If you wanna get crazy, we can get crazy!” he yells from the porch.

They wanna get a lot crazier than he can imagine.

In the fright realm, doppelganger films comprise a whole subgenre of their own. Who ARE these people — or creatures — who look so much like ourselves? What do they want from us? The third act takes “Us” into an underground lair/metaphor where these terrifying doubles — our own worst subconscious instincts? — lurk and nurse grudges against their aboveground counterparts. It looks remarkably like a subterranean version of the late great George Romero’s Monroeville Mall. Full of escalators and of dividing and multiplying rabbits!

Let’s just say there’s a little too much goin’ on here — even a biblical invocation, of Jeremiah 11:11: “Therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape…”

Writer-director Peele reportedly gave his cast 10 horror films to watch before “Us” filming began, including “Dead Again” (1991), “The Shining” (1980), “The Babadook” (2014), “The Birds” (1963) and “The Sixth Sense” (1999). They did their homework well. Ms. Nyong’o is terrific in her dual roles, especially frightening (and virtually unrecognizable) as her doppelganger persona. Mr. Duke is better at comedy than tragedy, but holds his own. It’s worth noting that he and Ms. Nyong’o were classmates at the Yale School of Drama and co-stars of last year’s hit “Black Panther.”

But give those kids (Shahadi and Evan) equal credit for their own uniquely dual performances as the children from heaven and hell. And I love Elisabeth Moss of “Mad Men” fame — applying her lipstick with mad silent laughs and screams.

For the first hour or so, the preview audience thought “Us” was a comedy and laughed freely. They grew increasingly silent as the horror kicked in and every new set of ominous or ironic images — little girls’ ballet dancing, among them — seemed tangential to the trauma at hand.

Well, when you have a directorial debut like “Get Out,” for which Mr. Peele won a best screenplay Oscar, the pressure is intense for your next film to equal or better it. Unfortunately, the creepy script of “Us” has plot holes the size of potholes on Saw Mill Run Boulevard. Plus logical gaps and dubious twists Scotch-taped together by crude editing.

Kudos to the cinematography and the soundtrack. But it’s a visual-visceral, not an intellectual experience. Unlike “Get Out,” the less time you spend thinking about it afterward, the better.

Mr. Peele wants very badly to inherit Rod Serling’s mantle. His reboot of “The Twilight Zone” is imminent. But the sociopolitical connotations that made Serling’s shows so fascinating are not to be found in “Us.” They’re nipped in the bud of their presentation by a disorderly script that’s jam-packed with memorable ideas — most of them half-baked.

Post-Gazette film critic emeritus Barry Paris:

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