There are fewer debuts as successful as writer-director Jordan Peele’s Get Out, which earned four Oscar nominations including one win for Best Original Screenplay. It’s amazing to think a horror film would be nominated for Best Picture, let alone one that was so charged with social and racial commentary. The success of Get Out might’ve taken some by surprise, but nobody could be surprised that Peele’s second film, Us, would be among the most highly anticipated of the year. Us was another critically acclaimed smash hit for Peele, though I doubt it’ll have the same Oscar chances as his previous film. Regardless, Peele’s latest hit arrives on DVD and Blu-ray from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment with an edition teeming with special features that explores the Peele’s latest cinematic nightmare.
Us is about the Wilson Family and their horrific attempt at a vacation in Santa Cruz, California. Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) and Gabe (Wilson Duke) take their children Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex) to the coastal town where they’re attacked in the middle of the night by murderous doppelgangers. However, the horrors unleashed aren’t limited to just the Wilson Family as an underground society of “tethered” people rise from the system of underground tunnels that cover the United States.
As a sophomore feature, Us sees Jordan Peele growing as a visual storyteller. Peele crafts haunting, memorable visuals. Scene after scene features some incredible shots, and Peele’s visual style makes the film’s violence all the more effective. However, as Us sees Peele grow as a visual stylist the film is also somewhat a step backwards for him as a writer. The first half of the film plays perfectly as Peele leans in on the mystery of his scenario. It’s in the second half when Peele begins to peel back the layers of mystery and explain the unusual happenings of his film that the story begins to sputter.
Part of the problem is that it seems that Peele has written himself into a corner, crafting a story of visceral terror that makes it almost impossible to provide a satisfactory explanation – something, however, I don’t feel that the film needs to do as ambiguity can be so much terrifying that understanding. It results in Us being less thematically coherent as Get Out. Whereas Get Out was about well-intentioned liberals and the commodification of black bodies, Us is about the duality of man, how we can be our own worst enemies, and the segments of society that have been overlooked and forgotten – it’s ambitious, perhaps too ambitious for a single film.
For those who finish Us with an array of questions, the Blu-ray for the film may not provide a concrete explanation for everything that occurs. However, it does dive deep into the intent of its filmmaker through a number of fascinating behind the scenes featurettes. Peele in a series of interviews as well as behind the scenes footage explains all sorts of aspects to Us, and it really gives you a sense of just how ambitious Peele went with his second film. The behind the scenes glimpses don’t end with Peele. The cast and crew are also interviewed, but it’s the behind the scenes glimpses of a Lupita Nyong’o and her incredible dedication to her craft that really comes through. Between takes she maintains the creepy voice of Adelaide’s counterpart Red. Rounding out the bonus features are a number of deleted scenes. The only thing missing on the Blu-ray of Us is an audio commentary track with Peele, but the amount of featurettes that give us insight into his thought process more than makes up for the lack of commentary.
Just the other day I was watching some old episodes of Key & Peele, the sketch comedy show on Comedy Central starring Keegan-Michael Key alongside Jordan Peele. One thing stood out to me about the sketch comedy show where Peele made his name: It’s use of horror tropes in a number of sketches. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, it would seem that Peele’s comedy with its blend of social commentary and horror was a tease of what was to come. And yet, as we’ve seen over and over again, the ability to write hilarious 5-minute sketches doesn’t always translate into cinematic success. Jordan Peele has been able to find cinematic success because he’s attempting more than just scares; he’s trying to say something and consistently utilizes humor to cut the tension. Us may not live up to the incredible highs of Get Out, but it’s still an ambitious, terrifying work of horror filmmaking and further cements Jordan Peele as the most exciting voice in genre cinema.
While not as thematically strong as Get Out, Jordan Peele’s sophomore feature Us is still an ambitious work of horror filmmaking, a terrifying and entertaining film that further cements Peele as the most exciting writer-director working in genre.