(Jason Bailey / Flavorwire)
The editing is sharp — there’s a suite of cross-cut one-on-one confrontations, once each of our protagonists meets their doppelganger, that’s sort of staggering – but Peele is always careful to give his actors their moments. (Elisabeth Moss has one, carefully applying lipstick in a mirror, that is absolutely chilling.) Every performance lands, thought Nyong’o has the movie star role, and plays it as such; her payoff moments deliver, but she’s unnervingly creepy when playing her character’s villainous half.
And yet, with all those virtues noted, Us can’t quite match Peele’s debut. Part of that is just a question of timing; Get Out is a terrific thriller that also arrived at precisely the right moment, in the morning-after hangover of a stupefying presidential election, and seemed a timely reminder of the evil that our smiling friends and neighbors are capable of.
But if Get Out was accidental Trump commentary, Us is decidedly deliberate, particularly in its third-act explanations and revelations, and when Peele preceded the SXSW screening by announcing, “the movie is about a lot of things,” he tipped his hand a bit — particularly in the opening stretches, there’s a fair amount of seemingly random setup and sheer oddity, bunnies under opening credits and vague on-screen text about underground tunnels and a lot of details about the 1986 Hands Across America project. Some of it pays off, but in a way that makes those elements feel like side scrawlings in a director’s notebook, plot points created to accommodate stuff he thought would be cool to throw into the movie, rather than growing organically from the material.
(Jason Bailey / Flavorwire)
Get Out was the latter, and as a result, it was tight as a drum. Us is not that, which isn’t entirely a criticism. Such ambition — a sophomore filmmaker grasping to make a big statement, and fumbling a bit in the process — is not only forgivable, but admirable. Ultimately, he’s hoping to provoke thought, self-examination, even anger.
“My favorite thing is the idea that people will leave ready to have a conversation with whoever they’re with,” Peele explained in the post-screening Q&A. “I have a very clear meaning and commentary I’m trying to strike with this film, but I also wanted to design a film that’s very personal for every individual.
“In the broader strokes of things, this movie is about this country. And when I decided to write this movie, I was stricken by the fact that we are in a time where we fear the other. Whether it is the mysterious invader that we think is gonna come kill us and take our jobs, or the faction that we don’t live near that voted a different way than us… we’re all about pointing the finger. And I wanted to suggest that maybe the monster we really need to look at has our face. Maybe the evil is us.”
“Us” is out March 22 in wide release.