A family of four goes on vacation to the seaside town where the mother, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o, making the most of her dual role), experienced a childhood trauma, the memory of which remains dim.
In the movie’s most arresting moment, Adelaide, her husband (“Black Panther’s” Winston Duke) and their two kids (Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex) look out the window and see four figures silhouetted in the driveway.
As the shapes come into focus, the boy observes that the people outside look like, well, “us.”
From there, Peele deftly builds tension, drawing on the rich tradition of movies like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” along with the genre of “There’s something in the house!” horror films upon which “Get Out” also capitalized.
“Why are they doing this?” the boy asks, at roughly the time when the audience is surely wondering the same thing.
As the narrative progresses, though, there’s a nagging sense that the payoff might not be the equal of the jump-out-at-you thrills, a concern borne out, largely, by the movie’s last act.
Peele, it’s worth noting, is about to launch a new version of “The Twilight Zone” on CBS All Access, and the specter of that series looms over “Us” in the way it has many a movie in the years since.
Once you set up an inexplicable scenario, there are the twin challenges of both sustaining the suspense and delivering an explanation rooted in logic as well as surprise.
“Us” does fine on the former front, but falls short on the latter. While there are hints at bigger ideas within the plot, the structure isn’t nearly as elegant as what, yes, “Get Out” economically captured.
Having set the bar so high, Peele can be forgiven for the disparity. Yet that’s the inevitable burden of early success, in much the way that the descending quality of M. Night Shyamalan’s movies couldn’t help referencing “The Sixth Sense” and “Unbreakable.”
If advance box-office projections prove accurate, “Us” is headed toward a strong opening, which should cement its director’s status as the new toast of Hollywood.
As a first film, this movie would have surely been hailed for its promise. Held up against a debut that garnered a well-deserved Oscar nomination and honors for best original screenplay, it’s easy to come way thinking that “Us” doesn’t merit all that fuss.