Oscar winner’s performance flat out ‘chilling’ in ‘Us’

By Chic DiCiccio

While “Us” isn’t likely to snag a Best Picture nomination like “Get Out” did for writer-director Jordan Peele, it’s definitely the leader in the clubhouse for 2019’s Best Dad Joke Series. It’s also liable to underwhelm those looking for a satirical message and maybe even those hoping for a hardcore horror flick. If you throw out all those preconceived notions about what to expect, “Us” is an entertaining, extremely funny and creepy thriller … that also happens to be a bit of a mess. 

Evan Alex (left), Lupita Nyong’o and Shahadi Wright Joseph in “Us.”
Photo courtesy of Monkeypaw Productions

The creeps start in 1985 as a young girl named Adelaide (Madison Curry) stares at her television while a Hands Across America commercial airs. That silly and pointless public display of virtue signaling apparently had quite an impact on her as she throws on her Hands Across America T-shirt then heads off to the Santa Cruz boardwalk with her parents. 

It would ruin what happens to Adelaide after she strolls into a House of Mirrors, but the insanity of it is written all over her face (and eerily portrayed by Curry). Adelaide grows up (now played by Lupita Nyong’o) and she and her young family are headed off to her now deceased mom’s beach house, which seems to give her way more pause than it should. 

Adelaide’s husband, Gabe (Winston Duke), throws out a joke a minute, all of them bad dad jokes that get nothing but eye rolls from teenager Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and her younger brother, Jason (Evan Alex). Gabe is obsessed with the beach, his new boat and hanging out with his pal Josh (Tim Heidecker), a dopey, clueless rich guy with an equally dopey and clueless wife, Kitty (Elisabeth Moss). 

Their vacation comes to an abrupt stop when four strangers appear in their driveway that are essentially their clones. They carry nothing but scissors in their matching red jumpsuits and, other than Adelaide’s doppelgänger who can speak, communicate via grunts and snorts. 

By this point, “Us” is working on your last nerve. It’s more freaky than scary and when Adelaide’s clone speaks, it’s disturbing to nightmare fuel levels. As horror movies are wont to do, it does get a bit predictable and characters tend to do things that no rational human being would. Since it’s a genre flick, let’s all look past that kind of stuff. 

But it’s tough to look past the predictability of where “Us” is going and the manner in which it’s revealed. The final twist can be seen from a country mile away, which feels like a letdown. The explanation of why and how all the crazy stuff you just saw is there, but it’s explained in a way that a bad Bond villain would think is silly.

The revelation from “Us” is Lupita Nyong’o. Sure, she’s an Oscar winner, but she’s never been the lead in such a massively anticipated movie. The range that she shows off in “Us” is almost akin to bragging. Not only does she carry the emotional heft of the movie, she’s the scariest thing in it as well. Her doppelgänger voice is flat out chilling. Peele’s background helped propel “Get Out” to some dark comedic places, but this time around, it may have done more harm than good. The movie looks perfect and he smartly avoids cheap jump scares, but Peele far too often kills built up tension with a joke or a gag. It also devolves into a “bad guys chase good guys” movie, which isn’t exactly original. 

It’s unfair to Jordan Peele to expect him to deliver something as great as “Get Out” every time he writes or directs a movie. “Us” shows that Peele is by no means a one hit wonder, but his first chart topper is far superior than his soon to be second.