“Us:” A beautiful nightmare

Jordan Peele has made something truly unique with his sophomore effort, “Us.” The film centers on the Wilson family as they vacation on Santa Cruz Beach, a beach which holds a dark connection to mother Adelaide’s (Lupita Nyong’o) past.

As night settles in, the family is set upon by a group of scarred and twisted psychopaths who look exactly like them. Vacation turns into a desperate battle for survival as the Wilsons must outwit themselves, all the while Adelaide must come to terms with a secret of her own.

“Us” is a film about duality in much deeper ways than its spooky concept. The film tows a tight, tonal line, jumping between visceral horror and campy comedy in a nightmarishly seamless way. The film’s like a nightmare. Peele has created a world that obeys a different set of rules than the one we live in, but while watching the film, I didn’t notice how bizarre everything was. It was only after that I realized this, much like how dreams make total sense until you wake up.

This doesn’t always work in the film’s favor, however. At some points, it revels in its idiosyncrasies a bit too much, and the story suffers because of it. The ending of the film in particular feels rushed.

When the explanation for everything is finally given, it feels a little one-note and dropped into the audience’s lap, as if Peele is saying, “Here, I guess you’ll need this.”

It doesn’t derail the experience, but it keeps “Us” from fulfilling its full potential.

Outside of a few story problems, the film is impeccably made. The cinematography is frequently beautiful, and everything is punctuated by Michael Abels haunting, trippy musical score.

Last but not least is the film’s cast. The actors pull no punches, effortlessly bouncing between goofy banter and horrified screaming as the script calls for it.

Winston Duke, who plays Wilson family father Gabe, is the heart of the film’s funny side. While in the end his character doesn’t amount to much, Duke’s performance keeps the film’s comedy from being totally buried under the horror.

Nyong’o steals the show, however. Her dual performance as Adelaide and the mysterious doppelganger leader Red is haunting, surreal and impossible to look away from.

“Us” gets a lot of things right. From a technical standpoint, it’s masterful. It tells a disturbing, funny, thought-provoking tale that unfortunately disappears too far down its own rabbit hole in the final minutes. It’s a good, nearly great movie, and one that you should definitely check out.

⅗ stars

mason.robert.dredge@mail.umkc.edu

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