No Sophomore slump for “Us”


Photo credit: Andrea Nebhut

Illustration by Andrea Nebhut

By now, someone in your life has told you about a little movie called “Us,” directed by Jordan Peele and starring Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke. They might have used adjectives like “perfect” or “utterly perfect” or something mundane like “amazing.” I am here to tell you they couldn’t be more on the mark.

I was lucky enough to see it on its first Friday, and when I was standing in line, waiting to buy my coveted Sour Patch Kids, I wondered if the movie would be something of a sequel to “Get Out” or maybe a continuation of the themes that it grappled with. While doing either of those things wouldn’t have been necessarily a bad thing, I think it would have been the “easy” thing for Peele to do.

Making a gem like “Get Out” as your first film is an incredible thing to do; few directors start out with such a booming success of a film. Not only did it break box office records for money made by a horror film but it also won Peele his first Oscar, for Best Original Screenplay. Following up something like that can be a daunting task, few directors ever have, and using the themes Peele had already dealt with or using some of its tropes would have been a safer, solid choice. But with “Us,” I think Peele outdid himself and showed that he was willing to push past comfort to overcome the dreaded sophomore slump (looking at you, Orson Welles).

“Us” follows a family as they have a no good, very bad summer weekend from hell. Things go from creepy to murder-y to outright insanity with a deftness that for me didn’t shock me out of enjoying the film, but instead kept me even more intrigued. From the soundtrack to the shot selection, Peele creates a haunting and tense mood that sticks throughout the film. While like “Get Out,” “Us” included some well-crafted humor that Peele keeps from his years as a comedian. The humor was mostly delivered by Winston Duke who, after this film, will definitely be even more on-the-radar for other big-name directors.

Yet undoubtedly, the shining star of the film is Lupita Nyong’o, who commands complete attention and power in each scene she’s in. From her monologues to her battle scenes to her playing the two most intriguing characters in the film, she again shows that she is one of the most talented and versatile stars in the business.

In one scene particular, she delivers some of the most important lines of the film; they’re laced with this wonderful dancer imagery, and all the while she keeps that calculating mask of a face that her second character in the film, Red, has the entire time.

The film also balances the star power it has, making sure newcomers Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex, who play the son and daughter of Nyong’o and Duke. I never felt one character was overused or one was underdeveloped; they all had their time to show the audience why they should fear for each character’s life.

What is possibly the most incredible part of the film is that, much like “Get Out,” through all the violence, suspense and terror rests a powerful social critique. Yet, I think another layer to why the film is incredible is that it isn’t just one social critique; it could be many. For me, I believe it was directed critique at the wealth gap in the world and how so many live below others, in more ways than one. Whether this takeaway from the film is wrong, right or spot-on doesn’t matter. The film can be many things, or it can just be an exciting thriller — that’s left up to the audience to decide.

I love when a film has a palpable level of ambiguity to its meaning. Rather than spoon-feeding the audience what the film is exactly about, it gives the audience the ability to decide for themselves.

“Us” was proof that the sophomore slump can be beat and enunciated the point that Jordan Peele is one of the best directors in Hollywood right now. “Us,” for me, is a perfect film and I really couldn’t recommend it enough. If you disagree with me, I would love to discuss why you should see it again because I think a second viewing will show you there is more in the tunnels than meets the eye.