Us will creep you out and is packed with ideas, but lacks satisfying scares

Whether or not you consider Us a scary movie depends on your personal preferences. If “scary” means making you jump in your seat, shielding yourself with the person sitting next to you, or screaming out loud, you might be disappointed with Jordan Peele’s latest film.

But Us is most certainly creepy, with imagery that might live inside your head for a while and revisit when you close your eyes. The broken mirror doubles that a family suddenly encounters are chilling, a credit to make-up and costuming as well some fantastic acting — both in a physical and psychological sense — from the cast.

Following Get Out, Peele has made another thinking person’s horror film. No, Us probably won’t resonate the way his first effort did. And the story’s resolution doesn’t feel as satisfying. That might compel some fans and critics to use terms like “sophomore slump” in critiquing this movie. But Peele deserves credit for not repeating himself here, something that surely would’ve been easy to do.

Us presents ideas (one of which will compel a Google search, unless you really know your Bible verses) for you to think about long after you leave the theater, pondering just what the movie is trying to say. Is the way we live and interact with others different from our baser instincts and personalities? When threatened with grave danger, how would you react? How much influence does our surrounding world have on us?

And there is so much more. This is a movie you might want to see with someone else, because you’ll want to talk about what you’ve seen and each of you might notice or be affected by different things. I wonder if my initial perception of the movie might have been different had I not seen it by myself, which is my typical preference.

I felt disappointed when the credits started rolling. Us didn’t scare me like I hoped it would. There also seemed to be far too many ideas and commentaries sprinkled throughout the story for everything to tie together nicely at the end. (That leaves a lot of questions, like “Where did the doppelgangers get those golden scissors?”) Yet as I thought more what I just watched, especially on the drive home, my appreciation for the movie grew.

For many, the biggest takeaway will be how impressive Lupita Nyong’o’s performance is. She takes the role normally assumed by a man: the protector of the family, the one who takes down the threat. What makes that even more compelling is that her character, Adelaide, begins the story as more of a scared, agitated figure. She seems like she needs to be saved. But when someone needs to take charge, Adelaide is the one to do it. She’s swinging the big stick (or in this case, the fireplace poker).

However, Nyong’o isn’t just playing Adelaide. She’s also portraying her warped double, someone who’s spent too long being hidden and ignored, and wants retribution for a life of deprivation. Nyong’o’s physical demeanor is completely different for this character. She’s angry instead of scared. She’s aggressive instead of timid. Her eyes convey an unnerving insanity. And her voice is nightmarish, the strained wail of a woman finally vocalizing her fury after being kept silent for most of her life.

Another unexpected joy is Winston Duke. The guy who stood out as M’Baku in Black Panther, a hulking warrior capable of taking down T’Challa or Killmonger, is a big ol’ softie here. He’s a giant dork, a good husband and father often making groaner jokes. He just wants a relaxing weekend at the family summer home, and maybe a boat too. Who doesn’t want to vacation near a lake without a boat, right? Rather than fight the bad guys (though he does defend himself), he stays with the kids while his wife takes care of business.

To me, Us was saved by a revelation that compels you to look at the entire movie in a different way. I plan on seeing it again to catch what I may have missed and what has to be viewed from a new angle. Some might say Peele wasn’t successful if his message wasn’t clear the first time.

But maybe that’s a signal from Peele that there’s a whole lot more here than you may have realized. A movie that rewards second and multiple viewings is a rich one, and many of us might appreciate it more weeks, months and years from now. From that view, Us might have an even greater life than Get Out, even if it’s not as pleasing.

Peele’s second movie was almost certainly going to suffer in comparison to his first one. That’s probably not fair, but it demonstrates how impressive Get Out was. The sketch comedian had a lot more to offer than we knew. He’s completely redefined himself as an artist, now viewed as a master of horror with his first two films, the upcoming Twilight Zone series and his remake of Candyman.

It’s a title he deserves. Eventually, that body of work may stretch throughout the land, like the Hands Across America charity event he makes fun of in Us. We won’t be mocking Peele in 30-plus years, however.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

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