Jordan Peele avoids sophomore slump with “Us”

Wesley Stenzel, Staff Writer

Creating a satisfying follow-up to a debut as acclaimed as “Get Out” is a nearly impossible task. Jordan Peele’s 2017 breakthrough was his first directorial project ever, and it earned him an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, not to mention a $250 million gross on a $4.5 million budget. “Get Out” was one of the most talked-about films of the decade, and its unique blend of thrilling horror and social commentary about race left moviegoers with high expectations for Peele’s next film.

“Us,” which debuted in theatres this past weekend, sees Peele easily avoid the sophomore slump. The film, which stars Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke of “Black Panther” fame, is an immensely satisfying horror-thriller that’s bound to entertain almost any viewer. The less audiences know about “Us” before watching it, the better. The movie is truly terrifying, but doesn’t utilize sudden jump-scares to elicit fear from its audience. Instead, the tension stems from compelling storytelling, mysterious antagonists, and a deeply creepy atmosphere. The film doesn’t make viewers apprehensive for random short-term spooks, but rather for the well-being of the ultra-likeable characters. While it’s not quite as thematically rich or as flawless as “Get Out,” “Us” is equally unique, expertly crafted, and still full of rich social commentary. 

From a technical standpoint, “Us” is nearly perfect. Peele’s top-notch direction once again demonstrates his ability to balance horror and comedy. The film has more humor than “Get Out,” and every joke is perfectly timed, providing much-needed levity after tense moments. Mike Gioulakis provides breathtaking cinematography that adds to the tension and enriches the film’s themes. The film also boasts a killer soundtrack that almost certainly makes it the first movie to play the Beach Boys and N.W.A. in immediate succession. The cast gives incredible performances: without spoiling too much, the four core family members play two roles each, and their ability to create multiple distinct, nuanced characters is unbelievable. Awards ceremonies often snub horror films, but Lupita Nyong’o deserves every nomination possible for her dual performances.

Thematically, the film is somewhat frustrating. Peele smartly pivots from specifically racial themes––not because they’re unwelcome, but because he proves he’s no one-trick pony. The themes of “Us” are much broader than those of “Get Out,” and are vague enough that one can potentially project almost any social topic onto the film, which is both a blessing and a curse. There’s threads that point toward classism, politics, the American dream, race, and social media, and it’s unclear what exactly Peele wants his audience to take away from the film. In interviews, the writer-director has remained vague with regards to what “Us” is specifically trying to say, but has repeatedly stated that the movie ultimately reflects group identity and the inescapable reality of us-versus-them mentalities. Peele’s vagueness will simultaneously delight viewers who enjoy endless speculation and frustrate those who desire more definitive answers. Ultimately, “Us” is a must-see film that could only have originated from the visionary mind of Jordan Peele.