Jordan Peele had established himself as a comedic force to be reckoned with during five seasons of the Comedy Central sketch series “Key and Peele.” When that show came to an end, probably the last thing anyone ever expected he would do is give up acting and start writing and directing horror thrillers.
Yet, that’s exactly what he did with “Get Out,” the 2017 film that brilliantly melded Hitchcockian suspense with moments of sheer terror and quite a few belly laughs from sharp racial-tension satire. The result was a massive hit, earning $173 million domestically with a $9 million budget and a Best Picture nomination, as well as a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Peele.
Now he’s back with his follow-up effort “Us,” which Peele has promised to be even more terrifying and somewhat less focused on gaining laughs. The big question is, can he pull off anywhere near the same level of success this time? Unfortunately, despite some great elements, it’s a big disappointment — and even more sadly, the biggest part of its problems is its largely illogical screenplay.
The film starts off in 1986 as we see a young African-American girl named Adelaide wander off from her parents at the famously creepy Santa Cruz Boardwalk’s amusement park during the weekend of the Hands Across America anti-hunger fundraiser. She enters a house of mirrors and stumbles into a reflection of herself that scares her so much that she is unable to speak for weeks afterward.
Cut to present day and Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) is a beautiful and seemingly confident wife to her husband Gabe (Winston Duke), mother to preteen daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and son Jason (Evan Alex). Gabe insists on taking the family to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk and the childhood vacation house of Adelaide, unaware of her past trauma there.
Adelaide warily goes along with the trip, but keeps noticing that things seem “off” everywhere she looks. And on their first night in the house, Gabe notices a family of four in the shadows on the edge of their driveway. When he tries to scare them off, they instead rampage toward the house, setting off a night of abject terror that is heightened when the family realizes their attackers are also their ruthlessly evil doppelgangers.
This may sound like a cool premise, and the trailers have had “Get Out” fans buzzing with excitement for weeks. But the problem is, once Peele establishes the setup of a decent family forced to confront their literal dark side, it really doesn’t go anywhere for far too long.
Instead, viewers are treated to a seemingly unending series of chases and fights in which both families use all manner of household objects to pummel, stab and otherwise puncture each other in hideous and sometimes funny ways. When they realize that their only nearby friends have also been attacked by evil versions of themselves, the tension and mystery should become more intriguing.
Instead, it literally goes nowhere, until after at least an hour of mayhem. Then Adelaide finally goes back into the haunted house of mirrors and uncovers the truth of what’s been happening all along. The answers are confusing and illogical at best, and disappointingly ridiculous at worst, giving audiences almost literally nothing to care about.
This is a stunning fall for Peele, who’s trying to make a commentary about our light and dark sides, as well as class warfare, but it has none of the punch and effectiveness of “Get Out.” In fact, by the end you’ll be wishing you had just decided to get out and enjoy life in the real world instead. n