Two years ago, writer/director Jordan Peele leapt into to international prominence with his first film, “Get Out.” Peele’s dazzling blend of satire and horror won a well-deserved Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and the movie was also nominated for Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor (Daniel Kaluuya).
“Us,” his second film, is a chilling nightmare version of the American Dream that will certainly join the pantheon of great horror movies. With flawless timing and the pitch-perfect manipulation of comedy and terror, Peele puts a contemporary spin on classic horror movie tropes and turns a funhouse mirror on middle-class mores. It opens today (Friday, March 22) nationwide.
As the movie opens, Adelaide Wilson (an impeccable Lupita Nyong’o) is bringing her family to her childhood home for a summer vacation, despite a growing sense of unease fueled by dim memories of a traumatic incident from her past. After a tense day at the beach with the family of her old friend Kitty Tyler (Elisabeth Moss), Adelaide’s fears materialize when a mysterious yet somehow familiar family suddenly appears outside her house.
To say anything further about the plot might spoil the terrific roller coaster ride that Peele and company have created. Peele’s work as writer and director is flawless. There’s not an extra word or a wasted shot and every detail is meticulously planned. With its careful focus on masks, mirrors and reflections, the movie is also a visual delight. Thanks to his seamless collaboration with cinematographer Mike Gioulakis, editor Nicholas Monsour and especially composer Michael Abels, Peele ratchets up the tension until a breath-taking final revelation and a closing image that is somehow both deeply disturbing and very funny.
The entire cast is terrific. Nyong’o is thrilling as a woman confronting her own past and the monsters that threaten her family. Moss is wonderful as the shallow friend whose vanity and unmet ambitions become a fascinating part of Peele’s thoughtful commentary. Winston Duke is delightfully goofy as Gabe Wilson. He provides crucial comic relief, as does Tim Heidecker as Kitty’s husband Josh. Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex turn in fine performances as the brave Wilson children.