Jordan Peele spent years crafting “Get Out”. In his 2018 Best Original Screenplay Oscars speech, he remarked that, “I stopped writing this movie about 20 times because I thought it was impossible.”
But once you’ve made a hit movie, now comes the real hard part: the studio (in this case Universal) wants you to quickly crank out another one. And that’s exactly what happened with Peele’s follow-up, “Us”. It was made with about five times the budget of “Get Out”, but created in one-fifth of the time. And it shows.
All Peele wants you to know going in is that “Us” is about a family (wife/husband played by Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke) on summer vacation in Santa Cruz, CA. The couple and their two kids encounter a family that looks exactly like them. Why? Well, the majority of the mystery is actually revealed in the first third of the film.
Once that happens, dialogue almost entirely disappears, and “Us” becomes a family survival story – a thin one, mercilessly stretched out to two hours. Unlike “Get Out”, “Us” is a legitimate horror movie. And unlike Peele’s directorial debut, “Us” is not about race or other topical social issues. It’s simply a standard, gruesome, perilous, often ridiculous, over-the-top slasher film.
Peele is an avid horror fan. He attempts to put his stamp on the genre with gold scissors as the signature weapon. He also includes many typical elements, including a heavy-handed score and “creative” camera angles. But outside of a few early set-up scenes with Nyong’o, nothing truly special or satisfying emerges. I kept waiting for the moment when everything would come together, and “Us” would become more than just another creepy, ultra bloody, zombie thriller. That moment never comes.
Admittedly, I didn’t expect the twist that occurs in the final scene, which, in a small way, saves “Us” from being a 100% one-trick pony. But, the need for a long speech by a key character late in the film, which, basically, explains why and how everything happened, shows that Peele didn’t do his job over the first 95% of the movie.
It’s not fair (yet) to say that Peele is a “one-hit wonder”, but “Us” is a classic case of a sophomore slump. Maybe it’s time for the former sketch comedian to “Get Out” of the suspense genre and surprise us, again.