Jordan Peele’s ‘Us’ Wins Over Critics: ‘A Masterpiece’ Despite Some ‘Messiness’

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

Two weeks before “Us” hits theaters, Jordan Peele’s follow-up to “Get Out” screened for the first time Friday night at SXSW in Austin, Texas. And judging by the early reactions from critics, it appears Peele isn’t suffering from any sophomore slump.

In her review for TheWrap, Yolanda Machado praised the performances of Lupita Nyong’o and Shahadi Wright Joseph, saying each brought something completely different to their dual roles the mother Adelaide Wilson and her daughter Zora, and then as their creepy doppelgänger personas. Machado also said that Peele — who wrote, directed and produced the film — cemented himself as the best horror filmmaker in the business.

“Nyong’o gives a master class in acting in dual roles and is almost unrecognizable as her doppelgänger persona. (Which is as much plot as will be revealed here.) Not only does she take on an entirely different voice, but her posture, movements and facial expressions suggest a different individual entirely. At times, I had to remind myself that this was the same woman; that’s just how good she is,” Machado writes.

Also Read: ‘Us’ Film Review: Jordan Peele Terrifies Again With a Chilling Examination of Duality

“Wright Joseph, meanwhile, plays two extremes of a teenager: one slightly removed, angsty but loving, while the other is just downright creepy. Her strengths are on full display in some of the more climactic scenes, but that evil-twin smile will haunt me in my sleep.”

Most of the other critics largely agreed with Machado’s take, even if some thought “Us” may have been a little too ambitious for its own good. But the early word is that Nyong’o is the clear star of the film. Check out some more reviews below.

Dan Caffrey, Consequence of Sound

“There’s no denying the craftsmanship or the singular voice that’s on display in ‘Us.’ And yet there’s also no denying its messiness, which expands outward as the film moves farther and farther from its claustrophobic locale. Exciting? Sure. Unique? Without a doubt. But it’s hard to not feel frustrated by a script that never seems to figure out what it’s trying to say.”

Matt Patches, Polygon

“Peele constructed ‘Us’ to spark conversation without sacrificing his instinct to be wildly entertaining. There are hilarious kills and barbarous acts of violence. There are deep societal reads on 21st-century life in the U.S. (wink) and also jokes about explaining the drug references in rap lyrics to kids. There are sequences in film that recall the most artful horror films of the 1970s — and there are sequences that directly shout out to ‘C.H.U.D.’.”

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Angie Han, Mashable

“Moment to moment, ‘Us’ is a film designed to make you react – to get you to giggle at Winston Duke’s extreme dad-ness (“You don’t need the internet. You have the outernet!” he tells his exasperated teenage daughter), or scream at a villain silently materializing in the corner of a frame. And it shapeshifts so frequently, and so deftly, that it’s a fool’s errand to guess at any moment what might happen next.  But it quickly becomes obvious that ‘Us’ has a lot more on its mind than making you jump. Every detail here seems carefully considered, down to the amount of dust gathered on a coffee table in a rarely used living room. In the hands of a filmmaker this precise, much of the fun is in waiting to see just how his intricate puzzle will come together.”

Joanna Robinson, Vanity Fair

“Peele’s overarching social commentary is clear, but he also said that he wants every individual to tailor their interpretation to their own experience. As with ‘Get Out,’ this film certainly has plenty to do with the black experience in this country. One of the biggest, most uneasy laughs of the night went to Nyong’o when, in full monster mode, she responded to the question “who are you?” by croaking, defiantly, “we’re Americans.” But ‘Us’ is never just one thing. It’s a masterpiece of doubling, layering, and tethering. It’s also a movie packed to the brim with horrifying iconography–the red jumpsuits, vacant-eyed bunnies, and always those slicing shears–some of which has obvious meaning, while Peele is disinclined to break down the rest the way he did with Get Out.

Randall Colburn, AV Club

“After a soupy first act, the film roars like a rocket, with quick shots of burgeoning chaos–Peele remains so, so good at finding the uncanny in public behaviors–serving to disorient in ways that nullify the need for gore. It helps that his cast is so game. Nyong’o is incredible, as effective in battle as she is in moments of drama. Joseph and Alex are also compelling, each giving their doppelgängers a fierce edge that never veers into the “creepy kid” template pervading modern studio horror. Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker, meanwhile, each get to flex heretofore untapped muscles as the family’s sousy, self-loathing pals. It’s unfortunate, then, that ‘Us’ splinters as it exhales. Its 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.”

Also Read: Jordan Peele’s ‘Us’ Trailer Shows a Terrifying New Nightmare (Video)

Evan Narcisse, io9

“All of the main cast pull double duty in impressive fashion playing the two sets of characters but Nyong’o shines brightest. She gives ferocious energy as a mother giving her all to fight against darkness and an opposite number seething with implacable covetousness.”

“Us” stars Nyong’o and fellow “Black Panther” star Winston Duke as a married couple who take a trip to a Northern California summer beach home along with their children, and meet another couple portrayed by Elisabeth Moss and comedian Tim Heidecker. Nyong’o’s character slowly becomes paranoid about her children’s safety, and as she becomes more concerned, they witness four figures in red suits holding hands at the end of their driveway. Those figures aren’t just anyone, but exact replicas of themselves.

“Us” opens in theaters on March 22.

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‘Us’ Film Review: Jordan Peele Terrifies Again With a Chilling Examination of Duality

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

Examining the nature of humanity can be a dark and depressing venture, now more than ever. A world that feels divided, one which you fear, becomes your greatest enemy. These are the building blocks for “Us,” writer-director-producer Jordan Peele’s highly anticipated, thrilling and satisfactory follow up to his Oscar-winning 2017 debut “Get Out.” It’s also where he cements his place as one of the best horror creators of our time, knowing that life’s true horror stems from what humans are capable of doing to each other.

Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o), her husband, Gabe (Winston Duke), and their children Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph, “Hairspray Live!”) and Jason (Evan Alex) head to the beach town of Santa Cruz for their summer vacation. They’re an all-American family, with a father who has a degree in dad jokes, a mom who tends to the needs of all her family, a monosyllabic teenager who never looks away from her phone and a spritely, rambunctious young boy content to run around in a Chewbacca mask all day long.

But then a pattern of coincidences appear — the number 11:11 popping up several times, circles landing within a circle, words being spoken in the same moment — that shake Adelaide to her core. She’s been through this before, as a young girl, in that exact same beach town. And what she once ran from has now come to make her remember what she left behind.

The performances are uniformly fantastic, but I was most impressed by Wright Joseph and Nyong’o, both delivering distinct and completely unique work. Nyong’o gives a master class in acting in dual roles and is almost unrecognizable as her doppelgänger persona. (Which is as much plot as will be revealed here.) Not only does she take on an entirely different voice, but her posture, movements and facial expressions suggest a different individual entirely. At times, I had to remind myself that this was the same woman; that’s just how good she is.

Watch Video: Jordan Peele’s ‘Us’ Trailer Shows a Terrifying New Nightmare

Wright Joseph, meanwhile, plays two extremes of a teenager: one slightly removed, angsty but loving, while the other is just downright creepy. Her strengths are on full display in some of the more climactic scenes, but that evil-twin smile will haunt me in my sleep. Duke and Alex are great pairings against Nyong’o and Joseph, with Duke — the imposing M’baku of “Black Panther” — transforming himself into a full-on suburban dad. Co-stars Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker, who play the Wilsons’ friends and neighbors, add a touch of humor with their own dark twist.

Duality is a big theme throughout the theme of the film, an examining of things that are so very similar in appearance but vastly different too. The film even incorporates the theme within its own structure. “Us” plays as two contrasting movies: one is very much a jump-scare-filled, thrilling horror flick that many of us grew up watching, while the other is a much deeper and complicated drama with a sometimes muddled message about society. It’s a smart strategy but also a bit disorienting.

Also Read: Lupita Nyong’o Zombie Comedy ‘Little Monsters’ Acquired by Neon, Hulu

There’s a plot hole that evolves from this very contradiction of themes, but it’s not a deal breaker, mainly because Peele envelops you in the film’s dichotomy. Ultimately, this yin and yang deepens the film, because it allows it to evolve and change in each subsequent viewing, even if it might disengage viewers at certain points.

That duality surfaces in the soundtrack created by Michael Abels (“Get Out”) that features both Luniz’s “I Got 5 On It” and the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations,” in scenes which would not usually come to mind for either song. The unique takes on both heighten the sense of the world Peele has created. Production designer Ruth De Jong (“Manchester by the Sea”) has crafted disparate yet parallel sets, which are highlighted along the way as the story reveals itself.

See Photos: ‘Black Panther’ Star Winston Duke Exclusive StudioWrap Portraits

You don’t have to guess at what films may have been some of the inspiration for “Us.” Peele, taking a cue from M. Night Shyamalan, leaves the breadcrumbs right on the table for you to see. The opening sequence of the film is a wide shot of a few VHS tapes surrounding the television set where a young Adelaide (Madison Curry) is watching a news segment about 1986’s “Hands Across America” charity event. The VHS spines read: “C.H.U.D.”, a handwritten sticker of what might be a home movie, “The Goonies” and “The Right Stuff.” It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it type of moment, one that is otherwise insignificant, but strains of those four films all influence “Us.”

Peele’s sophomore effort is the type of genre film that will merit re-examination every few years, and it has the potential to stand among his greatest contributions to genre filmmaking.



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How Neon Bounced Back With 4 Big Sundance Buys After Last Year’s $10 Million ‘Assassination Nation’ Misfire

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Neon left Park City, Utah, last year after lighting up the 2018 Sundance Film Festival with four acquisitions, including a splashy $10 million check for the technology dystopian thriller “Assassination Nation” — that wound up grossing just $2 million in theaters last fall.

You might think the 2-year-old company would be gun-shy in Park City this year, but instead it emerged with four films at this year’s festival — second only to the free-spending Amazon Studios.

Neon partnered with Hulu to win a bidding war for the buzzy Lupita Nyong’o comedy thriller “Little Monsters,” in a deal worth mid-seven figures, and bought the thriller “The Lodge” for just under $2 million, Latin American survival thriller “Monos” and partnered with Topic Studios to acquire rights to “Luce,” starring Naomi Watts and Octavia Spencer.

In addition, Neon was also locked in pricey bidding wars for high-profile titles including Mindy Kaling’s “Late Night,” which Amazon bought for $13 million, and “The Farewell,” which saw worldwide rights go to A24 in a deal worth between $6 million and $7 million.

“I would say that the purchase prices were reflective of any year at Sundance,” Neon co-founder Tom Quinn told TheWrap. “We’re able to compete with the Amazons and the Netflixes when we think it makes sense.”

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While Amazon cracked open the piggy bank and spent more than $45 million on films like “Late Night,” “The Report,” “Brittany Runs a Marathon” and “Honey Boy,” Neon emerged as a significant player in an increasingly volatile indie movie market.

This despite the fact that the company was founded in 2017 without the bankroll of Jeff Bezos’ tech giant or even the track record of more seasoned indie outfits like A24 and Fox Searchlight.

“We are different: We’re not a publicly traded company and we don’t have endless amounts of funds,” said Quinn, who previously launched The Weinstein Company’s Radius label where he scored with genre hits like “It Follows” and “Snowpiercer.” “But we’re in the business of being a top-tier distributor and how we envisioned ourselves before we launched is exactly what we’re doing.”

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Following the success of “I, Tonya” — which Neon acquired in Toronto in 2017 and drove to a $30 million box office success as well as an Oscar for supporting actress Allison Janney — Neon and film financing and investment company 30West entered into a partnership last January that “dramatically changed Neon financially,” Quinn said.

The exact terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but it gave 30West a majority ownership stake in Neon. But Quinn credited the deal for giving Neon the ability to build out its slate.

“30West’s investment and support has allowed us to be aggressive at festivals and be one of the top buyers at Toronto — and Sundance as well,” he said.

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In addition to “I, Tonya,” Neon last year grossed a surprise $12 million from the hit documentary “Three Identical Strangers” and the Swedish-language fantasy “Border” topped $750,000. But other releases — including Natalie Portman’s “Vox Lux,” the cop thriller “Monsters and Men” and Shia LaBeouf’s “Borg vs. McEnroe” — failed to break $1 million.

And “Assassination Nation” severely underperformed, though Neon spread its risk by co-acquiring with Joe and Anthony Russo’s AGBO production company, and then partnering with foreign distributors, including Universal Pictures International in the U.K., to release the film overseas and help mitigate the distributor’s risk.

“It didn’t work,” Quinn admitted of “Assassination Nation.” “We were more aggressive than we should’ve been and would’ve fared better to platform it. I’m still happy though it’s an incredible film we can be proud of supporting and that we ultimately mitigated some of the risk.”

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During this year’s Sundance, Neon focused on domestic theatrical distribution and partnered with other distributors where needed to help offset its exposure.

Heading into the festival, Quinn said, Neon was looking to acquire “the 3 L’s”: “Late Night,” “Luce” and “The Lodge.” Amazon ultimately beat out Neon’s $12.5 million offer for “Late Night.” The distributor was also ready to shell out $2.5 million for “The Farewell,” before A24 stepped in with as much as $7 million for worldwide rights.

“We operate with an annual budget just like everyone else, but if we wanted to step outside of that, we simply figure out how to mitigate the risk,” Quinn said.

“We have an incredible output deal with Hulu,” Quinn said. “We partnered with Hulu during Sundance to acquire Lupita Nyong’o hit comedy horror ‘Little Monsters.’ We are in a unique position as an independent. Our ancillary is handled by a studio, Universal, while some titles we’ll still handle directly.”

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Neon has also partnered with YouTube, Shudder, BH Tilt and Netflix to release some of its slate. And in addition to using festival acquisitions, Neon has begun to produce its own projects. Neon premiered Todd Douglas Miller’s documentary “Apollo 11” with production and financing assist from CNN Films, and it has “The Beach Bum,” starring Matthew McConaughey and Zac Efron, set for a March 29 theatrical release.

“That’s where the beauty of our company lies — it’s an eclectic slate,” Quinn said. “The small films like breakout discovery ‘Monos’ are just as important as the bottleneck priorities of ‘Late Night,’  ‘Luce’ and ‘The Lodge,’ they reflect our strong point of view as well as the films and filmmakers we want to support.”

Neon’s 2019 slate also includes the Aretha Franklin documentary “Amazing Grace,” the Tessa Thompson-Lily James crime drama “Little Woods,” Tom Harper’s “Wild Rose” and the documentaries “This One’s for the Ladies” and “The Biggest Little Farm.”

“We want to do the best work we can for the slate, and when we see a film we love, it’s really hard to let it go,” Quinn said. “We hate to see someone else handle a film that we believe is a perfect Neon movie. We have more room in our slate, but if we don’t find another film for us this year, we will be OK.”

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Lupita Nyong’o Zombie Comedy ‘Little Monsters’ Acquired by Neon, Hulu

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Neon, in partnership with Hulu, won a bidding war for the rights to the Lupita Nyong’o-led zombie comedy “Little Monsters” in a deal worth mid-seven figures, according to an individual with knowledge of the negotiations.

Australian writer-director Abe Forsythe’s film, which also stars Alexander England and Josh Gad, premiered Sunday in the midnight section of the Sundance Film Festival.

“Little Monsters” follows directionless Dave (Alexander England) who takes an opportunity to chaperone an upcoming school trip alongside the charming and enigmatic teacher, Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o), in order to impress her.

What he wasn’t expecting was a zombie invasion, which unfolds after an experiment at a nearby military base goes awry. Armed only with the resourcefulness of kindergartners, Dave, Miss Caroline and children’s TV personality Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad) must work together to keep the monsters at bay.

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The film was one of a number of deals that were brokered late into the night on Sunday. In addition to “Little Monsters,” Neon booked distribution rights for the Riley Keough-led thriller “The Lodge,” Amazon landed another big acquisition; picking up Adam Driver’s fact-based political thriller “The Report” for around $14 million, and British filmmaker Gurinder Chadha’s Bruce Springsteen-infused film “Blinded by the Light” was on its way to New Line for roughly $15 million, the festival’s biggest deal thus far.

CAA Media Finance and Endeavor Content brokered the deal.

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Don’t be fooled, those red jumpsuits in the trailer for Jordan Peele’s “Us” aren’t there because the characters are in a festive, Christmas spirit.

On Tuesday, Peele and Universal stuffed our stockings with the first trailer for his new film, the follow-up to 2017’s breakout film “Get Out,” which saw him win an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Peele first teased audiences with a chilling poster that featured a character wearing a sadistic looking glove while holding a sinister pair of elongated golden shears. And this first trailer finally gave us an idea as to what those are all about.

“They look exactly like us. They think like us,” Lupita Nyongo’s character says in the trailer. “They won’t stop until they kill us, or we kill them.”

Also Read: Jordan Peele’s ‘Us’: Lupita Nyong’o Is Bloodied, Beaten and Fierce in First Look (Photos)

“Us” stars Nyong’o and Elisabeth Moss in a film that Peele told Entertainment Weekly is a “monster mythology,” drawing on influences as classic as “The Shining” and as recent as “The Babadook.”

Nyong’o and fellow “Black Panther” star Winston Duke play a married couple who take a trip to a Northern California summer beach home along with their children, where they meet another couple portrayed by Moss and comedian Tim Heidecker. Nyong’o slowly becomes paranoid at her children’s safety, and as she becomes more concerned, they witness four figures in red suits holding hands at the end of their driveway. And as this trailer reveals, those figures aren’t just anyone, but are exact replicas of themselves.

“Us” opens in theaters on March 15, 2019. Watch the first skin-crawling trailer for Peele’s sophomore film above:

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