I'mma give 'em maximum performance

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TAS Reviews: Us

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TAS Reviews: Us

Every time a director comes out with a debut film that establishes them as an exciting, fresh voice in the industry, I'm reminded of the Newsweek cover in 2002 which had a photo of M. Night Shyamalan on the front, alongside the caption The Next Spielberg. Actor, writer and comedianJordan Peele showed a lot of promise with his directorial debut 'Get Out', a film that felt like the work of a director who had something to say, and also a unique way of saying it. But there was no telling if Peele would follow it up with another solid movie, or if he would go down as one of those directors that got lucky and stumbled across one good script, made one good movie with it, and weren't able to follow it up.

Which brings us to this movie. Peele's sophomore directorial effort: 'Us'. Starring Lupita Nyong'o (since this is a comic book website: Nakia in Black Panther) Winston Duke (M'Baku in Black Panther) Elizabeth Moss (Girl Interrupted), Anna Diop (Titans), Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Aquaman), and a bunch of child actors you've probably never heard of. To give a brief synopsis, this movie follows a woman called Adelaide, who goes on a vacation with her husband Gabe, and her kids Zora and Jason. Their vacation is soon interrupted by the arrival of doppelgängers, who terrorise the shit out of them.

No one can tell whether Peele will go down the road of M. Night Shyamalan and make movies as bad as The Last Airbender and After Earth, or even the recent Glass, but what I can say is that right now, he's two-for-two. Us is a fantastic movie: a movie that does what any good sophomore movie should do. Which, in this case, means doubling down on the screenwriting aspects that made Get Out such an impressive movie, while also doubling down on the scare-factor. Rarely are you able to watch a movie that feels like a director had a vision and executed it perfectly to a T, but with Us, it's almost as if machinery was used to glimpse the director's mind, and translate it perfectly to cinematic form.

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This is a psychologically scary movie, and one where the director utilises camera angles masterfully to create a sense of dread and fright in the audiences. The idea of being terrorised by doppelgängers who look and think exactly look you would be a terrifying reality, and Jordan Peele does an exceptional job placing us in the shoes of this characters and taking us along this rollercoaster with them. The significant difference between this movie and Get Out is that whereas most of that movie found the tension and terror in trivial and idiosyncratic scenarios such as the awkwardness of a person meeting their girlfriend's parents for the first time, or the sensationalism that white people often treat people of colour with, Us is a more conventional horror movie, with Peele taking us alongside a nightmare-fueled experience. The movie also has a fantastic, violin and opera heavy score that is utilised perfectly to add to this hellish, operatic atmosphere that gives this movie a nightmarish feel.

One of the strongest aspects of Get Out was it's screenplay, and how subsequent reveals led to a reexamination of almost everything that occurred before hand in the film, and with Us being a more traditional horror movie in a lot of regards, one might fear that the quality of the writing would take a hit because of it. Thankfully, Us still delivers on the stunning attention-to-detail found in Get Out. I found myself constantly questioning the thematic significance of otherwise inconsequential things, and although I might've done it a little too much at times, I was satisfied by how many creative choices throughout the movie contributed to the overarching themes Peele wanted to explore.

Jordan Peele's mind is rampant with social commentary and observations, and his strength is in taking these ideas and translating them into high-concept thrillers where each and every creative decision culminates in his thesis. This rings true for Us, and it results in a film that succeeds on a prime level of being a satisfying, scary, psychological horror, but also a movie that leaves you with something to think about. Something to ponder. To discuss.

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One aspect where I thought Peele demonstrated growth as a filmmaker in this film was the characterisation. In Get Out, the characters felt like they existed entirely to service to the meaning of the movie. 'The main character', 'the main character's girlfriend', 'the white dad' and 'the white mum' would be good ways to describe those characters, because while they were absolutely perfect for the message that movie conveyed, I ultimately didn't care much for those characters as people, and I'm not sure I was supposed to. With Us, I cared about every single one of the people in the family, which was vital to my investment in the movie. It wasn't just "a bunch of scary stuff happening for the sake of it." I genuinely cared for these characters and their wellbeing, and it's because the movie took it's time to patiently establish the family and their relationships with one another in ways that felt relatable and earnest.

Which brings me on to one of the most important aspects of this film: the performances. The acting in this movie is absolutely fantastic, particularly from Lupita Nyong'o, who turns in not just one, but two powerhouse performances. It's still relatively early in the year, but I wouldn't be surprised if her performances in this movie were still some of the best in the entire year by the time 2019 is over. Anything involving Lupita is easily my favourite aspect of this movie. The importance of Winston Duke's role in this movie also cannot be understated. He does an excellent job bringing the perfect amount of earnestness, cheese (and I mean this in the most complimentary way possible) and warmth to this film, which you wouldn't expect from the dude who played M'Baku, but he proved his range in this movie. In a lot ways, he is the heart of this movie. Elizabeth Moss also gives a fantastic performance in this movie, but the less said about that, the better.

There are some issues with this movie. The tone isn't quite perfect. In Get Out, Jordan Peele struck a perfect balance between seriousness and levity and that's present in most of this movie, but there are times where the comic relief in this film does feel somewhat like a Marvel movie at time, but these movies are rare, and a majority of this movie has the right amount of levity and gravitas. There is also an exposition dump toward the end of the movie which I thought should've been a lot clearer, as a lot of the people leaving the theatre with me, myself included, were only able to say "WTF?"

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But again, these moments are rare, and Us is a triumph: a prime example of a director who had a unique, original vision and executed it perfectly and without compromise. Watching this movie feels like a glimpse into the mind of Jordan Peele: a mind that is at once nightmarish and at once full of social observations. Between 'Get Out' and 'Us', Peele has secured his place as one of the most exciting directors currently working, and I'm already anticipating which corner of his mind he'll take us to next.

Conclusion: 9/10