jordan peele

"Us" Is Bold, Fresh, and Innovative - Even When It Stumbles by Keith LaFountaine

I've seen a statement passed around the Internet since the release of Us which I find interesting: "Jordan Peele is the next Hitchcock."

Aside from the hyperbole at play (as much as I admire Peele as a filmmaker, it seems a bit premature to liken him with Hitchcock upon the release of his sophomore film), I find it incredibly interesting that folks would choose Hitchcock of all directors. As I was reflecting on my walk home though, this choice makes sense. Peele utilizes many of the filmmaking techniques Hitchcock mastered -- creating tension with editing, understanding the difference between "suspense" and "shock", and building his horror around the former, and even the way he frames certain things.

The reason I bring all of this up is because I was surprised by Us on multiple occasions. Going in, I was under the impression that this was going to be a dimension-bending, sci-fi/horror film. While it does adhere somewhat to the premise upon which it is built, the end result is not as otherworldly; rather, it's a surprisingly poignant look at ourselves, at humans as a whole, and our reaction to "others".

Of course, I can't talk to much about this theme without giving too much away. However, there was a lot of pre-release chatter about whether this would be like Get Out in its exploration of real world themes through the lens of horror; the answer is: kind of. Peele tweeted out "Us is a horror film" (when Get Outwas released, he tweeted "Get Out is a documentary"), so it's clear that he, at the very least, did not set out to make a grand statement with this film; yet, one is there if you are interested in finding it.

Much like with Get Out, there's something that doesn't quite work with the integration of Peele's humor. He adheres so hard to horror themes and techniques that when the tension breaks for someone making a quip, or for a random side character to enter into the picture, the result is not levity, but instead the destruction of the viewer's immersion. I will say that Peele's humor didn't take me out of the film as much as it did in Get Out, and the humor is not centered entirely around one character (as it mostly was with Rod), so perhaps that is part of the reason why it worked more for me here.

The only other big complaint I have has to do with the third act. If there's one thing I really don't like in films with big mysteries, it's info dumps in the third act, and -- sadly -- that happens in Us. I understand why it's necessary in the film, but I really wish Peele had been able to impart that information without leaning on expository dialogue.

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Lupita Nyong'o is absolutely fabulous in Us. Adelaide and Red have distinct personalities, completely separate from each other. You almost forget that she is playing both roles. I was also very surprised at Evan Alex's performance, who plays her son. Much like Nyong'o, he expresses his emotions through his eyes, which in turn leads to a more understated and effective performance. The rest of the supporting cast is really solid, including Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker.

It's difficult to tell what Peele's work will look going forward. He's clearly a dynamic director who enjoys using horror as a lens through which to view society. I think that's part of what makes his films so interesting and fresh. For so long, horror films have been very adherent to specific themes and tropes -- one needs only to look at the slew of slashers and jump-scare ghost films at the box office to see what I mean. Yet Peele manages to subvert a lot of these elements, and I don't see him being the kind of director who makes the same film over and over again. If anything, Us is a testament to his ability, and his willingness, to experiment, to try and tell stories that aren't being told, and to do something bold and innovative with a genre that has been churning out rusted crap for over a decade. It's for those reasons that Us remains exciting and important, even when it stumbles in places.