Jordan Peele film offers frights, humor with dynamic acting

Jordan Peele performs live in concert at Shoreline Comedy Jam in 2012. Peele had wild success with his first film Get Out and is trying for a second box-office hit with Us (courtesy of Creative Commons).

Two years ago, Jordan Peele shocked the world with his stunning directorial debut Get Out. Peele, best known for his sketches on the hit Comedy Central series “Key and Peele,” surprised people with a film that seamlessly blended horror, comedy and social commentary in an excellent psychological thriller. Thanks to Get Out’s success, Peele had the world watching to see if he can pull off another hit with his latest horror film, Us. 

Us tells the story of a family taking a trip to Santa Cruz, Calif. After a series of coincidences worry family matriarch Adelaide—portrayed by Lupita Nyong’o—enough to make her want to leave, the family is terrorized by a group of doppelgängers on a murder spree that seemingly stems from a grudge. 

Unlike Get Out, which focused more on psychological horror, Us takes its horror in a far more conventional direction. Moments of white-knuckle tension, jump scares and violent kills serve to please horror fans looking for something closer to a typical slasher-style film. These elements are very well done and differentiate it from other horror films.

The film also features plenty of moments of comedic relief, especially from Adelaide’s husband Gabe—played by Winston Duke. These moments are well written and deliver a nice reprieve from the film’s tension. It is worth noting, however, that the horror and comedic elements are not as harmonious as they were in Get Out, often leading to moments where the tonal shifts are too extreme and leave the audience confused about how to feel. 

The four main family members’ performances in the film are excellent. Nyong’o steals the show and exhibits wide range thanks to her dual roles of Adelaide as well as one of the antagonists, Red. In fact, the cast does incredibly well playing both the scared, desperate victims and their dangerous pursuers. 

The film’s script is hit or miss. On one hand, the characters are all well-written, both in regard to dialogue and the decisions they make throughout the film. The protagonists often make quick, intelligent decisions, a nice change of pace from the bone-heads that normally populate horror movies.

As stated before, however, the script isn’t perfect. The film suffers from extreme tonal shifts that sometimes take away from both the horror and comedic aspects present. Furthermore, while the film contains plenty of social commentary, it’s not nearly as tight and focused as Get Out

The film’s messages are noticeable but often lack enough detail or aim to make an impact. It would have helped the film if the messages present were more fleshed out and were better integrated into the film’s plot. 

The film also features a major twist at the end that seems to undermine the film more than help it. While plenty of audience members have mulled over this twist in reference to the film’s overall events, it seems very unnecessary, like a quick way to shock the audience at the end rather than add insight to everything the audience watched thus far.

Technically, the film is excellent. The cinematography and editing of the film are remarkable and add a lot of quality to the overall film. The score is pretty good and a large part of the licensed music featured fits well in the film, minus a few exceptions. 

Overall, Us is an impressive second feature to add to Jordan Peele’s filmography. It manages to blend a lot of humor and horror in a well-shot, well-performed way. While the film’s script delivers a lot of great ideas, a few revisions definitely would have helped the film have a more consistent tone and more nuanced message. 

While not as good as Get Out, Us is a unique, terrifying film that is definitely worth a watch.