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SXSW 2019: “Us” Movie Review

Jordan Peele’s second feature was the opening night film at this year’s SXSW, and it sure left an impression. After the success of “Get Out,” as well as the creepy promotional footage for “Us,” sights were set high. And Peele and his cast delivered.

The film follows the Wilson family, who are on a vacation that’s rudely interrupted by something…odd. A ‘family’ that looks just like them arrives at their home, seemingly to torture them — or worse. Unlike Peele’s previous film, this one doesn’t focus on race and racism, though there are clear (but sometimes subtle) commentaries on both race and gender in this one.

Peele wrote, directed and produced the movie, which is a Monkeypaw film (his own company) made for Universal Studios — and don’t doubt for a second that Blumhouse is involved too. The Wilsons are portrayed by Winston Duke, Lupita Nyong’o, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex. Supporting roles are played by Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Yahya Abdul-Mateen and Anna Diop.

One of the perks of attending the movie’s world premiere is that Peele, Duke, Nyong’o, Moss, Heidecker, Wright Joseph and Alex were in attendance, as was Jason Blum. Peele introduced the film and joked, “What if I just got up here and played four episodes of ‘This Is Us’ and left?”

After the screening — and after Peele told everyone in the audience not to give away spoilers to others — they got onstage to do a brief Q & A session. There were a lot of great insights into the making of the film, such as Nyong’o “scaring the shit out of” Peele when she was in character as her red-clad döppelganger and Evan Alex admitting he’s not very good at snapping his fingers. It was interesting to get insight into how the cast got into multiple characters; Duke said he had to look at his main character (Gabe Wilson) from the point of view of the red-clad Abraham, while Wright Joseph said the hardest part of filming was letting herself be uncomfortable.

SXSW 2019 “Us” World Premiere | Photo credit: Jackie Ruth/Shuffle Online

And now, the actual film review: Wow. Just like in “Get Out,” Peele handles the intertwining of horror and comedy deftly, without one overshadowing the other. His script is tight, smart and interesting. There isn’t a moment in this film when the audience doesn’t feel something, whether that be empathy, tension, humor, shock or dread. “Us” is a somewhat gory movie, and definitely more straightforward horror than his debut, but it relies much more on emotion than shock value or cheap scares. Something fun for horror fans: Peele displays his fandom throughout the film with nods to “Jaws,” “C.H.U.D.,” and more.

The entire cast is phenomenal. And while this is technically an ensemble film, it should come as no surprise that Lupita Nyong’o steals the show. Every facial expression she makes, every line she utters, every move she takes is so precise — and it differs vastly depending on which character she’s playing. The younger cast members also give strong performances, which isn’t always the case, but I see bright futures for both of them. And of course, Winston Duke shows (in the words of Peele) that he’s “not just M’Baku anymore; he does other things well too.”

Us
Credit: Claudette Barius/Universal Pictures

“Us” is well-made in every possible way, and the cinematography and lighting are no exception. But what really stands out is the music — both
diegetic and not. Every composition and every popular tune used in this movie are pitch perfect (no pun intended). Sometimes it adds to the suspense, while others it just makes a scene more humorous or ironic. It’s one of the many masterful things about the movie.

As you can tell, I’m not willing to really give anything away about this film. It’s one that deserves to be seen with fresh eyes and an open mind. Peele implored the premiere audience not to give spoilers immediately after the screening, and when asked what he wants people to take from the film, he said, “My favorite thing is that people will leave ready to have a conversation.”

It’s only his sophomore effort, but it’s clear that Jordan Peele is a master of horror and will eventually be talked about commonly with the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, John Carpenter, George Romero, Wes Craven and more.

“Us” gets a nationwide release on March 22, so don’t miss it. Stay tuned for more SXSW 2019 Shuffle coverage here.

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