SXSW 2019 Review: Us is a bold and ambitious amalgam of genres.
After premiering Get Out at Sundance back in 2017, Jordan Peele’s directorial debut went on to become a massive hit that sparked a lot of conversation. Now, two years later, his sophomore film, Us opened the 2019 SXSW Film Festival to a very enthusiastic crowd. I have been attending SXSW for ten years, and I can’t recall the last time a film has premiered at SXSW with this much hype surrounding it. Seriously, there were people lined up to see Us at 1 PM despite it not starting until 6:30 pm. Yes, the hype for Us is very real.
My expectations for Us were high, especially when sitting in the theater waiting for Jordan Peele to take the stage to introduce the film. The same excitement that I felt was all around me in that theater. Before I begin my review, I want to let everyone know that if you are going into Us expecting it to be some sort of sequel to Get Out, you will be very disappointed. Us is a very different film and while Peele wrote, produced, and directed it, you would be doing the film and yourself a great disservice by expecting more of the same.
Jordan Peele has once again embraced the horror genre by creating a bold and ambitious film all about fear, reflection, and identity. Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) and Gabe (Winston Duke) are married with two kids, Jason (Evan Alex) and Zora (Shahadi Wright-Joseph). After spending a day at the beach, the family returns to their summer home only to discover a family holding hands and standing outside their home. As Gabe attempts to get them to leave, he only makes matters worse. The mysterious family proceeds to come inside their home and plans to kill them in order to take over their lives.
Us opens on a Hands Across America commercial from 1986, and while it may seem a bit odd, this is the first of many clues as to what Peele is trying to say about the state of the world. It is tough to discuss Us without spoiling things so I will try my hardest to keep the details as brief as possible. Us has a much different tone than Get Out and will be labeled as a horror film even though it is a mixture of a home invasion thriller, doppelganger horror, and dark comedy. The film does have a lot to say, but unlike Get Out, I am not entirely sure if the majority of audiences will “get” what Peele is trying to say. I think this film will be a conversation starter and spark a lot of online debate, but the final act is a bit too ambitious for its own good and doesn’t pack a big enough punch.
That said, I do believe the film works best when it is embracing its horror elements. There are countless scenes throughout the film that will have you on the edge of your seat. Most of them occur when the Wilsons’ doppelgangers chase them or try to explain who they are and why they are here. Many of these moments are guaranteed to send chills down your spine. Regardless of whether or not the film works for you, there is no denying that Peele knows how to build and create tension keeping an audience intrigued from beginning to end.
What I appreciate about Jordan Peele as a filmmaker is that he makes films that require repeat viewings. There are so few films made today that I feel as though I missed something and need to watch again immediately. Peele appreciates his audience and doesn’t talk down to them. He wants to challenge them to get inside his mind and try to figure out what he is trying to say about things. There are so many little clues sprinkled throughout the film that will leave you questioning what you just watched and whether or not, it was effective.
2019 is going to be a big year for Lupita Nyong’o. Back at Sundance, Nyong’o starred alongside Josh Gad in a zombie horror comedy called Little Monsters where she played a kindergarten teacher. Her role in Little Monsters was refreshing because Nyongo embraced her comedic side. With Us, she continues to prove her incredible range by playing two different versions of the same person. Nyong’o performance as Adelaide is very complex. She is struggling to overcome an incident from her childhood while also trying to be a supportive wife and mother. Adelaide’s “Tethered” self (basically her doppelganger) speaks in this very creepy voice that almost sounds like she has strep throat. The way that she speaks combined with Peele’s brilliant filmmaking makes this performance a true stand-out.
Alongside Nyong’o is Winston Duke whose portrayal of Gabe is very much that of a typical family man. He works hard and cares about his wife and kids. He’s a bit more lenient than Adelaide, but they balance each other out nicely. Gabe’s personality is one that is very lighthearted and fun. He adds a lot of humor in-between the suspense. After Black Panther and Us, I have a feeling that Duke is going to continue to get a lot more roles because not only is he a great actor with a lot of range but he oozes personality.
The two younger actors round out the primary cast perfectly. Shahadi Wright Joseph hasn’t been in much before this film which makes her dual performance as Zora that much more impressive. The same can be said about Evan Alex who has more acting credits than Shahadi, but he is just so damn good playing Jason and giving him such an interesting story considering he is the youngest member of the cast.
While there is a lot to admire about Us, I do feel like the film does go a little too off the rails in the final act. I feel like when the twist is revealed and things are explained, it wasn’t as satisfying as it should have been. It sort of left me asking, “oh, that’s it?” The reason why I mention this is because the film is so perfectly and brilliantly executed in the first and second half that I couldn’t help but feel like the payoff just didn’t have the same effect as the rest of the film.
All in all, Us is a strong second feature which proves that Jordan Peele is a game-changing filmmaker on the rise. The performances are all around great with each actor having to play an alternative version of themselves. Peele, once again, proves that he knows how to hook an audience and reel them in. Us will undoubtedly be a huge success at the box office when it opens on March 22th. If nothing else, Us will remind you to think about who you are the next time you look in the mirror.