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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    US (Jordan Peele 2019)

    JORDAN PEELE: US (2019)

    In which Peele doesn't quite live up to his original promise

    Even those like me who are not at all horror fans felt obligated to see Jodan Peele's debut feature Get Out after all the buzz. And the buzz was deserved. It was a cunning shocker. It's hardly a horror movie at all till the gory revenge finale. Most of it skates along the edge, and is simply steeped in the horror of ordinary American life - of racism. It's about a mixed-race couple who go to the country to visit the white girlfriend's parents, who turn out to be part of a nightmare. It might be many African American's nightmare to imagine being part of a plot to kill or enslave them. But in Get Out it becomes a nightmare anybody can get involved in. This movie was a surprise hit that broke out of genre.

    Get Out impressed. But really the biting short comedy skits, often about race, by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele that wee aired on Comedy Central, were even more impressive. They showed how Peele got the balls to be so up front about race in the movie. The success of the skits may explain the weird undefined quality of the movie, which was working in a much larger format. But this worked.

    Get Out got Peele a bigger budget and a secure position for his sophomore feature, Us. But despite all this security Peele hasn't felt secure about skirting categories in Us, because it's a straightforward horror movie of a most commonplace sort, the "home invasion." His version has a strong guiding concept, though: the other, the evil, the ugly scary outsiders who come to invade (dressed all in red, for some reason) are "us" - duplicate second selves, dopplegängers. Like in Get Out, they come to invade when a family (not just a couple this time) goes on a vacation trip. It's better to stay at home.

    The strength of Get Out is its vagueness. It becomes clear that the white girlfriend's parents are not going to be the trustworthy liberals they're cracked up to be. But exactly what's going on and what they are is never quite clear until the end, if then, and there are surprises.

    The trouble with US is that this time Peele has too many stories up his sleeve. To begin with there's the information that the United States is full of underground passageways, some of whose purpose no one even knows. Then there is the much-praised prologue in which little Adelaide wanders away from her childish father, who's distracted by playing Whack-a-mole at a 1986 Santa Cruz seaside fairground, enters a chamber of horrors labeled "Vision Quest," and there encounters inexplicable terror that renders her mute for a long period of time.

    When the doubles come along, played by Lupita Nyong'o, who's the adult Adelaide, married now to Gabe Wilson (Winston Duke) and with two kids, the assured Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and younger, more skittish brother Jason (Evan Alex), who wears a mask on top of his head as security, and can do magic tricks). they have different, elaborate back stories, and there turns out to be a world of doubles now emerging. These include doubles of the Wilson's better off white friends, the Tyers, Kitty (Elizabeth Moss, her presence a kind of imprimatur now on any offbeat movie) and Josh (Tim Heidecker), with their two blonde, athletic daughters.

    Most of Get Out is menace, and it's the menace of racism. A great deal of Us is war-on-zombies style slasher battles, with scissors and pokers. This is a disappointment. At the same time, these scenes - note the one near the end out on the road in Santa Cruz with a menacing double and a flaming car - are so beautifully staged one can simply enjoy them without attaching any point to them, or any stage in the suspenseful path toward some grand finale that, in fact, never quite comes. Here at the end as the elaborate explanations come, it seems Jason Peele really may think he's Stanley Kubrick, which, of course, he is not. The impressive Stravinsky-eque score (by Michael Abels) sounds more like Hitchcock. One longs for the simplicity and intense bite of Peele's first film. There is still a lot to admire, but as a whole, it's unsatisfying, and Us, perhaps because reviewers are seeing in it what the original core idea might have become, has been overrated. It's still, for a horror movie, classy stuff. But that, for me, is not enough.

    Us, 116 mins., debuted at SXSW 8 Mar. 2019, theatrically released 20, 21, 22 Mar. and subsequently in many countries. Metascore 81%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-22-2019 at 09:28 PM.


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