"We're Americans" - Red
Jordan Peele has been busy of late. The Key & Peele co-creator's 2017 theatrical directing debut, Get Out, is a sly blend of horror and social commentary that won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Peele also helped produce Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman and revived The Twilight Zone for CBS. His second feature film, Us, is an ambitious, strange thriller with plenty going on under the hood. Lupita Nyong'o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex star as the Wilson family and their counterparts during a disturbing weekend vacation near Santa Cruz, California. Sometimes scary, frequently funny and always interesting, Us is an accomplished, ambitious film.
It is almost impossible to discuss Us without mild spoilers, so beware these paragraphs if you want a totally clean viewing. The film opens in 1986, when a young Adelaide Thomas (Madison Curry) wanders away from her parents at a boardwalk amusement park and enters a funhouse, where she sees a doppelganger of herself. When her parents locate her, she cannot speak. Years later, Adelaide (Nyong'o) is married to Gabe Wilson (Duke) and has two children, Zora (Joseph) and Jason (Alex). The family travels to their lake house near Santa Cruz, where they join affluent friends Josh (Tim Heidecker) and Kitty Tyler (Elisabeth Moss) on the nearby beach while their children play in the sand. When Jason wanders off, Adelaide becomes panicked, and tells Gabe after locating Jason that being back here instills an unexplained dread in her. That night, a family of four, appearing to be doppelgangers of the Wilsons, appears in their driveway, dressed in crimson jumpsuits and carrying gold scissors. The Wilsons soon discover that these unexpected guests, dubbed Red, Abraham, Umbrae and Pluto, have sinister intentions.
The ultimate truth under the surface of Us is somewhat bizarre, if not overly complicated. While I did not guess exactly where the narrative was headed, I did have a clue thanks to an opening title card and some liberal foreshadowing. This does not undercut the film's effectiveness, as Peele did not write Us to have a "gotcha" twist. He instead creates a slow burn horror film with plenty of social commentary and dark humor. The four actors who play the Wilsons both good and sinister work exceptionally well together. I like the way this family is written, too, as their chemistry and interactions are believable. Gabe is the prankster; Adelaide is a doting mom with a survival instinct; Zora is a technology-obsessed teenager with a knack for running; and Jason is enchanted by magic and the unknown. The acting is great across the board, including from supporting players Heidecker and Moss. The film has fun at the expense of their characters, and they do not have a particularly happy ending.
The film takes its time getting to the action, which unspools pretty fiercely when it arrives. Some of the violence occurs off screen or out of focus, and I wonder if this is a stylistic choice or a necessity with the trim $20-million budget. Us questions the relationship between privilege and behavior, and a central theme is how those in power use society's most vulnerable. This is a very ambitious movie, and occasionally it feels like Peele bit off more than he can chew, or at least that some of the plot threads do not fall into place harmoniously. Even so, Us is overall entertaining, well acted, uniquely plotted, plenty funny and a bit scary. In a time of sequels and reboots, Peele proves original filmmaking is often the most satisfying.
No surprise here, the 2.39:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image from Universal is impressive. Other than some minor digital noise in darker scenes and a brief moment of banding, I found little to criticize here. Fine-object detail is strong; close-ups reveal intimate facial features and fabric texture. Wide shots are crisp and clean, and the transfer offers a strong sense of depth. Highlights are kept in check, black levels are reasonably strong and colors are often bold and gorgeously saturated, especially the reds of the jumpsuits and the flames in a climactic scene. Skin tones are accurate, and the image looks great in motion, lacking any trace of blur.
The Dolby Atmos mix, which I sampled as a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD mix, is immersive and very effective. Ambient effects are subtly chilling, and the action effects that ramp up as the movie moves forward make use of the entire sound field and subwoofer. The soundtrack and musical selections, including well-placed rap tracks "Fuck tha Police" and "I Got 5 On It", are given room to breathe and balanced expertly with dialogue and effects. French and Spanish 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus mixes are included, as are English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc set includes the Blu-ray, a DVD and an HD digital copy. The discs are packed in a standard case that is wrapped in a slipcover replicating the excellent key artwork and offering complementary embossing. This is the first time I have seen Universal's new menu system, which draws attention to the bonus material by placing preview squares on the home screen. After the movie, the disc automatically starts running all the features in a reel. Those bonus features include several short featurettes, The Monsters Within Us (4:45/HD); Tethered Together: Making Us Twice (7:29/HD); Redefining a Genre: Jordan Peele's Brand of Horror (5:31/HD); The Duality of Us (9:56/HD); and Becoming Red (4:09/HD). You also get Scene Explorations (7:36 total/HD); Deleted Scenes (6:28 total/HD); We're All Dying (6:22/HD), outtakes from the beach scene; and As Above, So Below: Grand Pas De Deux (5:02/HD), about the memorable, climactic dance sequence.
Jordan Peele proves his excellent Get Out was not a fluke with this strange, entertaining follow-up. Us offers social commentary, humor and thrills; is nicely acted; and proves original filmmaking is not dead. Highly Recommended.