Jordan Peele became an icon of horror after just one film. Get Out went on to become a massive commercial, critical, and Academy Award winning hit. The anticipation for his follow-up has been red hot. So, did he hit that notorious sophomore slump?

Not in the slightest. Us is another tour de force in tonal horror that has a core of social commentary running through it. While it is funnier and scarier than Get Out, the verdict is still out on whether it proves to be a better film. The two films will likely be critiqued, analyzed, and put through the vice of comparison. Get Out was a commentary on the Obama years while Us seems to be more of a commentary on the abyss of the human psyche and perhaps the scariest thing is having to face ourselves on a daily basis.

The film follows an upper middle-class black family vacationing in California. There life seems idyllic, which tells viewers that this setup is a tenuous house of cards that will inevitably fall. The parents Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) and Gabe Wilson (Winston Duke), take their kids to meet friends at the beach (played by Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss). This scene sets up the aspirations of the Wilsons who are wealthy, but maybe not as wealthy as they want to be. Adelaide is constantly on edge in these early scenes, still reeling from a childhood trauma that took place when her family was visiting the vacation home.

Nothing seems to match, there is an air of mischief throughout the opening leading to some strangers showing up at the home. These uninvited guests are a very close approximation of the Wilsons. They look the same, but they don’t talk, move, or think like them.

The Wilsons are put through a survival horror that is part Funny Games, part The Shining, a dash of The Twilight Zone, but in the end is pure Peele. There is no doubt he wears his influences on his sleeve, though Peele has his own preoccupations about identity. Through two movies he seems obsessed with America’s ability to group and categorize ourselves like we were cataloging books. He is peeling back the veneer of society to show that there is an intrinsically shallow approach to our commonalities and our differences. His script is built and structured like a horror film, but tackles ideas of American identity and our relationship to class disparity.

This all sounds like heady material, and sometimes it is. Yet, Us never weighs the viewer down with existential questions about national or individual identity. Peele’s film moves with velocity and humor. Even when it is aggressively dread-inducing there is still a through-line of dense humor. Much of the humor comes from Duke’s character. The viewer is never quite sure how aloof he is supposed to be. It is the type of performance that plays a very strong second fiddle to Nyong’o. Her work in Us is the type of revelatory work that an actor gets once, maybe twice in their career. Hollywood hasn’t been entirely sure what to do with her since winning her Academy Award in 12 Years a Slave. She has been hovering around and taking bit roles, but Peele is the first person to capitalize on her energy since that film. Even the bit roles are expertly cast, particularly Heidecker as a yuppie white and vaguely wealthy friend of the Gabe character. There seems to be a bit of mimicry of Heidecker in Duke’s portrayal of Gabe, adding another layer of performative individuality. Heidecker’s character represents what Gabe and Adelaide are potentially striving for.

In many ways, Us is a more assured directorial effort than Get Out. Peele is in full command of his tone and is in rigorous control of the emotional landscape he pulls the viewer through. There are a few missteps from a story perspective, but they are minor quibbles in a decidedly masterful picture, truly announcing Peele as one of the most invigorating and important directors working.

It will be interesting to see where he goes down the rabbit hole of individualism next. In the Trump-ian age, Peele is taking on the administration, not by overt political messaging, but by focusing on the outsider and how the overarching American fear of the Other wraps us into a cycle of toxicity. The others in Us might be terrifying, but he forces the main characters to examine themselves and in doing that he has crafted the most devious villains of all, themselves.

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