Jordan Peele does the miraculous: his follow up to GET OUT does not cheat his fans. And if you can dope out the twist, it’s terrific.
The two people I saw US with couldn’t understand the twisty ending. I tried to explain how clever it was under the logic of a horror movie. You must walk into the theater understanding that belief in monsters, creatures who kill for no reason, and the “why, who, what, when” are not subject to your standard model of reality.
It’s 1986 and young Adelaide (Madison Curry) is visiting a beachside amusement park with her parents. Adelaide’s mother tells Adelaide’s father to watch their daughter she goes to the restroom. She instructs Adelaide not to move.
Like all movie children, Adelaide immediately takes off, wandering far off and then, seeing a very creepy funhouse, goes in! Whatever happens to Adelaide, it’s all her fault and I started siding with the horror that would follow her disobeying her parents.
Adelaide is found but does not speak. She does enjoy her toys and nice clothes.
US jumps to the present day and Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong'o) is a mother of two youngsters, Jason (Evan Alex) and Zora (Shahadi Wright-Joseph), and happily married to Gabe (Winston Duke). After decades of staying away, the family decides to vacation at her childhood home, exactly the same place she had an unusual, frightening experience as a child.
Happy-go-lucky Gabe is eager to fish, sail and swim at the beach, but Adelaide is getting strange flashbacks to an uneasy time she was last at the resort. Finally, she tells Gabe that she is having bizarre memories and wants to go home.
After spending the day at the beach with their friends, the Tylers, Kitty and Josh (Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker) and their two teenage daughters and Adelaide searching for a wandering Jason – who also does not obey his mother’s orders to stay in her sight - the family returns home.
Later that evening, four people are seen standing outside the house. Gabe tries to engage them, but they do not talk, only grunt. Getting inside, they are almost identical to the Wilsons but only Adelaide’s copy speaks. She says she is Adelaide's "shadow," living a near-identical life to Adelaide since they are "tethered" together. But while Adelaide “Prime” has been happy, Adelaide “Shadow” has led a miserable life. Now that Adelaide “Prime” has returned, it’s time for revenge. She’s not the only one suffering as a “Shadow” and they all are ready to do some “un-tethering” and regain their rightful place.
Now, the premise established, we must evaluate how well the victims face the crisis. Not so well, I’m afraid. Adelaide agrees to be handcuffed to the table and Gabe, even though he’s a big man, is useless. Jason and Zora sit paralyzed and shocked. No one looks like they are thinking about escape. Adelaide Shadow is the ringleader and each of the Wilsons has a slightly weird twin. Jason’s twin wears a mask and leaps about like an animal on all fours.
Home-invasion movies are so common a theme that you begin second-guessing the characters. Hey, pick up a damn knife in the kitchen, find something heavy when Gabe, throttled and beaten, falls back inside the house. When the front door is pounded, why is the family sitting on the sofa watching?
So, these twin-shadows are the Wilson’s problem. When they luckily break free, they head immediately for their neighbors, the Tylers.
Too bad red garage-mechanic jumpsuit wearing Shadows (with their gold, long scissors) are already there. Kitty’s Shadow is a real piece of work! She puts on lipstick and is ready to fit right in. As the TV news reports, this is not an isolated beach community disaster. It’s happening all over the U.S. Everyone is facing their angry Shadows and paying the price for their neglect.
Peele generously gives the best line to Zora, who, wanting to drive the getaway SUV, insists it is her right since she killed the most Shadows.
Somebody is to blame and that is not what matters to the Shadows. They can easily replace their Primes (wait until they find out about taxes, jobs, and getting old above ground).
As the horror and bloodshed mounts, and Jason and Zora wake up their survival instincts, US becomes quite “enjoyable” as Jason and Zora fight back and make use of whatever household objects can be weaponized. Zora has a new-found gift for killing.
Gabe steals the movie with writer-director Peele giving him a distinctive personality and absurd reasoning about what is happening. Escape and then going back to the Tyler’s house? Hanging out and having dinner? Well, it is a family of middle-class privilege and if you live through something bad, when you think it’s over, it’s over and you can put on your favorite music.
As far as explaining the logic behind US, I certainly understood it and Peele does not skirt any horror-movie logic. There is a reason Adelaide Shadow is the only one who speaks, It’s the big clue.
Victoria Alexander is a member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org/. Victoria lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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