There’s an old Pogo comic strip that features the famous line “We have seen the enemy, and he is us.”
That sentiment is at the heart of the new horror film “Us” from writer/director Jordan Peele, a nearly successful follow-up to his brilliant debut “Get Out.”
And while “Us” may fall victim to heightened expectations, Peele’s skill as a filmmaker, especially a horror filmmaker, remains on an upward trajectory.
The premise is ambitious, even though it starts simply enough as we follow a family on vacation. They fit the basic archetypes as Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) is the protective mother, Gabe (Winston Duke) is the goofy dad, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) is the headstrong teen, and Jason (Evan Alex) is the annoying little brother.
Everything seems pretty normal until doppelgangers of the family invade their vacation home with murderous intent. Peele is a virtuoso when it comes to chase/jump-scare/splatter rhythms of horror movies and he pulls you right in during the first half of the film.
He also knows when to insert a laugh to break the tension and “Us” has some genuinely funny moments amidst all the mayhem.
The problem with “Us” is, when the motives of the doppelgangers are made clear, it just doesn’t hold much water and a tug on any of the loose threads causes the thing to start to unravel.
The movie still manages to work as an allegory about the haves and have-nots in our society, but I’m the kind of guy who needs a few more details if I’m going to buy into a bizzaro, sci-fi backstory. You’ll find me in the lobby after the movie asking, “Who feeds the rabbits? Who feeds the rabbits?!?!”
Peele’s talent is on full display here and his cast crushes their parts, especially Nyong’o, who plays subtleties of heartbreak, rage, and terror in both Adelaide and her double. But, as impressive as all of this is, it winds up being a bit like watching Stephen Curry score 60 points while his team loses the game.
Peele is still one of the most exciting filmmakers around and, my nitpicking aside, “Us” is still better than 90 percent of the horror movies that come along.
Even so, I’m looking forward to what he does next because I have no doubt his career is headed for better and brighter things.
“Us” is rated R for violence/terror and language.