In 2017, writer-director Jordan Peele alarmed and electrified the movie-going community with his chilling Get Out.
Both a deliciously scabrous attack on insidious liberal racism and a frightening Invasion of the Body Snatchers-style chiller, it was one of the most exciting horror movies in years. Grossing upwards of $200 million worldwide against a $4m budget, and winning an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, it was nothing short of a sensation.
One might expect Peele's second movie, Us, to buckle under the weight of expectation. Released later this month, it's the story of an African-American family confronted by their demonic dopplegangers while on holiday, starring Black Panther's Lupita Nyong'o in the lead role.
However it's time to put those doubts aside, because the movie premiered at America's SXSW Film Festival in Texas over the weekend, and the responses are uniformly glowing. What follows is a sampling of the initial critical reactions.
"Clearly the work of an ambitious writer-director who can see himself inheriting the mantle of Rod Serling (the Peele-hosted Twilight Zone reboot launches in less than a month), it offers twists and ironies and false endings galore," writes John DeFore in The Hollywood Reporter, "along with more laughs than the comedian-turned-auteur dared to include in his debut film... Now, those laughs are rationed out stingily, used to cut the tension between two very intense, very fine performances by Nyong'o. While her Adelaide is nearly paralyzed by a combination of maternal panic and childhood memories, her Shadow is an old-school bringer of violent justice, settling scores the Wilsons didn't even know existed."
"Thanks to a smart script and great performances from the main cast—notably a prowess-unlocked Lupita Nyong’o and a wonderfully loose Winston Duke – Us is both laugh out loud hilarious and disturbingly eerie all at one," raves Brandon Katz in Observer. "This isn’t a traditional horror movie – there’s well-executed humour throughout and even the scariest of scenes are more unsettling than out-right terrifying – and that delineation keeps an interesting concept and mystery centred. It is violent and disturbing at times as Peele is most definitely a purveyor of the perverse, but Us very much boasts a perspective on this country and the national undertones are refocused to be expressed through the struggle of this one family. We are, quite literally, our own worst enemies."
"For all the genius of Jordan Peele’s 2017 debut, Get Out – a movie that oh-so-smartly reinforced its horror-movie skeleton with an adamantium-strong (and twice as sharp) racial-tension allegory – audiences seemed to have one critique in common: The movie wasn’t nearly scary enough," writes Peter Debruge in Variety. "People aren’t likely to have the same complaint about Us, the genre-savvy writer-director’s terrifying – if somewhat less clearly double-edged – second feature, which comes loaded with nightmare-inducing images of tunnel-dwelling döppelgangers who’ve come to claim the privileged lives their aboveground counterparts have been enjoying all this time.
"The movie’s biggest strength comes from the cast’s stunning eeriness in playing their own dopplegängers," says The Verge's Tasha Robinson. "As 'Red,' Adelaide’s double, Nyong’o is staggeringly creepy. She gives Red a voice that sounds like a rock-record backmasking accident, and an overall affect of a collection of primal elements glued into the shape of a human, and making a game effort to play at being one. Duke plays Gabe as an affable dork, trying to jolly his family along with lame dad jokes and an upbeat affect, but he turns his own double, 'Abraham,' into a wordless, baffled beast, suffering and dangerous at the same time."
Collider's Eric Vespe is another critic who lauds the performances, saying Peele has a "talent for crafting complex, intriguing characters". Vespe adds that Nyong'o "nails it" and that she offers "the most central and important performance in the film".
Indiewire's Eric Kohn Kohn describes Peele’s film as one that offers a "satisfying dose of relentless, anxiety-inducing survival antics designed to keep viewers perpetually uneasy", adding the movie is full of "indelible imagery" and that "sometimes the scariest truths are hiding in plain sight".
On the other hand, Kevin Fallon, writing for The Daily Beast, says the movie promises more than it delivers. He laments that the "third act collapses during a fit of exposition that raises more questions than it answers, and its lingering twist lands with a palpable thud, failing to resonate due to a central metaphor that’s a touch too translucent."