“Us” (Rated C)
Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Madison Curry
We may be witnessing the birth of a modern classic.
No matter what you’ve heard about it, and regardless of what people may be saying – and the views and opinions vary greatly (with critics raving about it with a little more enthusiasm than some audiences) – the new film “Us” is an unforgettable experience.
Most importantly, though, it is a really good movie. And it is more than likely an even better one than it seems to us right now. Destined to be discussed and debated for years to come, it is also likely to be seen in an even more favorable light with the passage of time.
If you are merely looking for a gory horror flick, “Us” can indeed satisfy your needs. But allow yourself to follow it below what’s on the surface, and it can be a brain-stimulating and thought-provoking journey too. Yes, there may be nausea and head pounding along on the way, but it is one heck of a ride.
In the film, Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) returns to the beachfront home where she grew up as a child, and is accompanied by her husband, son and daughter. Haunted by a traumatic experience from the past, Adelaide grows increasingly concerned that something bad is going to happen. Her worst fears soon become a reality when four masked strangers descend upon the house, forcing the Wilsons into a fight for survival. When the masks come off, the family is horrified to learn that each attacker takes the appearance of one of them.
The Internet is filled with spoilers, and that’s unfortunate. I’m trying hard not to say too much here either. But here’s some advice: don’t talk to anyone and don’t read anything (besides this article, of course) before seeing it.
One thing I can say is that it’s not as terrifying as the spooky commercials and trailers suggest. It is much more of a mystery and a thriller, and you may find you’re on the edge of your seat trying to figure out what in God’s name is going on.
I can’t deny that early on it was losing me, as I became quite frustrated as at times it appears this is merely a regular old “slasher” film, with very bloody and violent content.
But stick with it, pay attention and don’t get distracted. There are important clues everywhere, from what is seen on screen and what is said. Nearly every line! And as more information is revealed – leading to the fascinating final few minutes – it is clear we’ve been feted to a near masterpiece.
A big part of the appeal here comes from the wonderful cast, especially those in the very likable Wilson family, all of whom are playing dual roles: their regular characters and their “evil” sides. The young cast (Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex as Adelaide’s kids, and Madison Curry as the young Adelaide) does exceptionally well. And the charismatic Winston Duke, last seen in last year’s “Black Panther”, is clearly poised for stardom, playing Adelaide’s husband.
But it’s the Oscar-winning Lupita Nyong’o who truly shines here as Adelaide and Red, in a nuanced and most-memorable performance (or is that two performances?).
Jordan Peele, the Academy Award-winning genius who wrote, directed and produced this incredibly smart picture (and who directed and won his Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for 2017’s “Get Out”), will earn his place among some of the greats in the thriller/mystery/horror genres, if he keeps this up. Let’s hope his career follows the successful paths of the likes of Alfred Hitchcock and Steven Spielberg, and he avoids M. Night Shyamalan-like slumps or stinkers.
So far, though, Peele has been able to tap into a successful formula of putting relatable characters into what would seem to be simple and often nerve-racking experiences (like meeting your girlfriend’s parents or taking a family vacation), and then examining what we and society really think and feel about ourselves.
And success is right! In the United States and Canada during its opening weekend last week, “Us” made more than three times its $20 million budget ($71.1 million). In just a week now, it’s already crossed the $100 million mark.
The day after I saw “Us”, a colleague asked if I thought it was better than “Get Out”. The immediate answer was “no way!” But that was the wrong answer. With each new day, I think of more and more reasons to appreciate the film. And it is indeed better – more complex and fascinating – than the fantastic “Get Out” (which also reveals new elements of its genius with each additional viewing).
Expect “Us” to be studied in film schools, and to be compared to some of those mind-bending sci-fi classics from the 1970s, and look for it to inspire whole new generations of filmmakers in multiple genres.
I’m just trying to figure out how much time should pass before I see it again; it clearly requires it to help unlock all the subtly hidden gems.
• Dwight Strachan is the host/producer of “Morning Blend” on Guardian Radio and station manager. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff. Email [email protected] and follow him on twitter @morningblend969.