SXSW Review: ‘US’ excites, ignites and terrifies ​

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James C. Clay // Film Critic

US

Rated R, 116 minutes.
Director: Jordan Peele
Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright-Joseph, Evan Alex, Tim Heidecker, Elizabeth Moss 

The age-old saying, you are your own worst enemy, has been said time and time again. If we don’t watch out we will always get in the way of ourselves. This notion is taken quite literally in the writer/director Jordan Peele’s (GET OUT) sophomore feature US. His brand of social horror has come across North America in a time when America’s political discourse is at a fever pitch and media could be the way we start to reach across the aisle. 

However, with US, Peele made a film that asks us to look at the darkest shades of our own personality to make those harsh judgments. This is a film that will excite, ignite and quite possibly confuse those looking on the surface, but Peele leaves a trail of breadcrumbs throughout the film that will make return visits oh so delicious. Working with Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o (BLACK PANTHER) and Winston Duke (MODERN FAMILY), the director is placing a spotlight on these actors giving them a showcase to make the audience erupt with laughter, quiver in fear, genuinely make you baffled in all the best ways possible.

Lupita Nyong’o, Evan Alex, Shahadi Wright in US (Photo Courtesy of Universal)

Adelaide (Nyong’o) and Gabe Wilson (Duke) are an average family with two tween kids Jason ( Evan Alex) and Zora (Shahadi Wright) who are headed to their summer lake house. The less-than-desirable accommodations feel frozen in carbonite since 1981, which plays into the horror fun as the film progresses. For all intents and purpose, there are few tell-tale signs to the family that trouble is coming. But as we know something is amiss.  Duke disarms with charming dad jokes, proving he’s more than capable beyond the borders of Wakanda, while Nyong’o charms when teaching her son to snap on beat to I Got 5 On It on the radio.  The Wilsons head to the beach for a day with Kitty and Josh Tyler (Elizabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker), and enter the orbit of the Tylers’ detached and vapid lifestyle. These are the neighbors you invite over to dinner, but can’t wait for them to leave.

Once things get going in US there isn’t a moment to breathe, as the clues come early and often. Pro tip with Peele: pay attention the devil are in the details of his story, something as small as a rabbit, or a commercial playing on the television has a thematic connection, or could be a hint of foreshadowing.

This is a filmmaker operating at master levels with all the elements, characters, set dressings and colors being put into place like he’s setting up a perfect chess move. Peele delivers with a story filled with dread, terror, and the lurking suspicion that we all could just be helpless to fix the situation.

There are many great horror performances throughout the decades, and this has Nyong’o operating on perplexing levels, from the physicality of her eyes and a croaking voice that will haunt the dreams of many young kids for years to come. This performance might jar some, yet she confidently owns the space and makes it her own. Even the new comers Shahadi Wright and Evan Alex make their mark on the screen against their parental counterparts by becoming versions of themselves that are the perfect twist on the characters we have grown to know of the film. Peele knows how to cast his films and he makes them look world-class in the process. 

Processing US is going to be a helluva task for any viewer, but these are the kinds of films we want to see reflected on the big screen, even if some may find it to be a bit inaccessible. Peele’s film is destined to be the perfect conversation starter at your next dinner party, trip to the water cooler, cook-out, or wherever as he’s a filmmaker plugged into the American consciousness unlike anybody working in Hollywood today. This is a film about us, a film that tells the story of how we hold ourselves down, how a black cloud can follow us around and how to overcome the day in day out of looking into the mirror. For all of the horror, US, is an expression of love. 

Grade: B+

US opens Nationwide March 22.

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