Film / TV

jordan peele is the new jordan peele

March 12, 2019
1.6K Picks

Whenever there’s a big, new creator in Tinseltown, the first thing people do is compare them to, shackle them with, and box them in with a creative predecessor—with the expectation that everything they create will be just like this other person’s work. With absolutely no deviation or differentiation.

Of course, with art, these comparisons are always wrong, because different perspectives are to be expected with different filmmakers (especially in this case where we are speaking on a Black filmmaker). Yet, these comparisons persist and this has been the immediate reaction to Jordan Peele and his upcoming film Us. Peele has already drawn interesting comparisons to directors like Steven Spielberg and Alfred Hitchcock (particularly because of his geeky nods to them and others in this film), but to be clear, his sophomore effort is an achievement all on its own and cements Jordan Peele as Jordan Peele.

The success of this follow-up was needed too, because it seems like many were expecting some sort of spiritual successor to his 2017 smash hit, Get Out, and I am extremely happy to announce that Us is nothing like the aforementioned film. And that not only is that a good thing, but it’s the thing that will keep audiences coming back for more.

Us follows The Wilsons, but particularly matriarch Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o), on what seems to be another dull family vacation in San Francisco. All complete with their annoying, racist-lite White friends The Tylers (played to perfection by Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss), who husband Gabe (Winston Duke) can’t help but compete with at every turn, even going as far as getting a rickety speed boat (which is properly milked for all its comedic potential). But Adelaide has reservations about being back in The Bay and it is soon discovered that some terrible, awful thing happened to her in a hall of mirrors on Santa Cruz beach back in 1986. But before Adelaide is able to fully explain said terrible, awful thing and, potentially, the secret that haunts her, a family of evil doppelgängers appear right at their doorstep.

And they are not here for dinner.

Us does so many things well that it is nearly impossible to parse them all. There are the performances of the Wilson family themselves, which includes children Zora Wilson (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason Wilson (Evan Alex). While the film makes it clear from the get-go that Adelaide has a “special” connection to her Tethered clone, the other Tethered Wilson clones give a different view of the family. Psychology enthusiasts would hypothesize that the clones are reflections of the id and a closer look at their base selves. And it is hard to disagree when you look at Jason’s clone (who flips his love of “tricks” into something more sinister, with a nasty temper to boot), Zora’s clone (who flips her clone’s “attitude” by smiling, albeit, creepily the entire film) or even Gabe’s clone (who flips his clone’s “hapless, lovable dad shtick” into one of a mindless, scary brute). But, if you think the id thing is a reach, wait until you see how it plays out in the Tyler family.

Of course, this wouldn’t be possible without the superior performances of N’yongo (who, mark me, will be up for her second Oscar after this film), Duke, Alex, and Joseph. These performances raise important questions about dual identity and the performance of identity. And they are questions that stay with you as you grab the person in the movie seat next to you and wonder aloud whether the Wilson Family will survive this ordeal.

The horror of the ID concept, however, wouldn’t hold up without the immaculate imagery that Peele paints via cinematographer Michael Gioulakis. Michael Abels’ score aids his vision and ramps up the whole affair by pulling us out skin with screaming piano keys and screeching violin chords and the now iconic deconstruction of the song “I Got 5 On It”—which plays during the film’s high-stakes climax. From the excellent lighting of our titular Black family’s skin (which is something that is still rare) to the alarming, extreme close-ups on Adelaide and her clone, literal mirror reflections of the Wilsons and the Tethered, and high-ceiling/doorway framing that circumvent typical jump scare territory, it is becoming very clear that Peele is getting good at this.

And that his mind is a very scary fucking place to be.

There are other aspects of this Us to parse, including Peele’s masterful use of humor, his impeccable comedic timing, his ability to weave the political (that is, fear of the stranger, or “the other) throughout the film in a way that is subtle and concise. And there aren’t too many “bad” things to say about this effort. But if one were to name a potential flaw, it would be the fact that there is actually too much story this time around, which leaves more questions after the credits than answers. What are the Tethered’s plans beyond killing their “original” doppelgängers and taking their place above ground? How were the originals cloned to begin with, without their knowledge? And for the scientists who abandoned the Tethered and left them underground, was this one of those “secret”, racist projects that the U.S. commissioned for the sake of “research” (like the Tuskegee Experiments), or is this more along the lines of some freaky and Area 51-esque revelation?

More questions remain, but the irony is that these are all the kinds of questions that will likely keep you up and steal the sleep from your tired eyes until you watch the film again, combing it over with your roving eyeballs for answers that would only appear to you upon a second viewing. Proving that even the most obvious “truths” or “facts” can take many different forms and have many different faces.

And perhaps that is Peele’s point.