After the awards and critical success of his first feature, Get Out, writer-director Jordan Peele was tapped to reboot Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone franchise. Meanwhile, he’s followed up Get Out with Us, which owes a debt to a few specific Zone episodes – and also to the fairly minor 1962 Body Snatchers knock-off The Day Mars Invaded Earth – even as it stages home invasion sequences more in the vein of The Strangers or You’re Next than that dimension out of space and time.
At two hours, it’s dangerously overlength for this sort of thing – but even Get Out had a surprising amount of padding for an Academy Award-winning script – and it blunders in the third act by delaying an emotional punch tied to a twist savvy viewers will have guessed during the prologue to offer an explanation for all the weirdness that raises all sorts of distracting ‘wait, but …’ questions in a way Serling would have known not to bother with. Seriously, what firm of manufacturers supplies six and a half million right-hand driving gloves, scissors and orange boiler suits to doppelgangers ‘r’ us? A vague government conspiracy, intended as a means of social control but abandoned because it doesn’t work, isn’t that much of a stretch beyond the premise of Get Out, but it’s on such a scale here that we’d have been better off with mumblings about radiation. As in Get Out, Peele also has the habit of reverting to comedy patter when playing it straight would get bigger effects – a few light touches, especially in the performances of Winston Duke and Elisabeth Moss, work well but banter about how many doppels the kids have killed fractures the mood.
In the opening, set in the 1980s, young Adelaide (Madison Currie) wanders away from her parents in a beach-side Santa Cruz funfair and drifts into a hall of mirrors where she encounters her mad-eyed double. As a grown-up, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) is still leery of going back there, but cheery husband Gabe (Duke) drags her, along with wolfman-masked son Jason (Evan Alex) and daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph). Not only do the bad memories come back, especially when Jason wanders off for a moment, but so does the double, now grown-up and with a family of twisted variations on the characters, seemingly intent on murdering their originals though a huge army of similar human spectres have another peculiar intention entirely. Get Out was an entry in the relatively rare form of horror-satire (cf: The Stepford Wives), addressing race and racism in a fresh manner – here, even more unusually, we get intimations of social content with doppelgangers as a resentful underclass, but the race angle is incidental, allowing the predominantly African-American cast to play characters who don’t have to be defined by their skin colour. Indeed the ostensible villains look like the supposed goodies, so Nyong’o (who needs many more films built around her), Duke, Joseph and Alex get to play dual roles in different modes, as the shadow family of Red, Abraham, Umbrae and Pluto exude different brands of menace. Joseph is especially disturbing as the evil teenager (Peele has a thing for scary fixed smiles), though points also for Tim Heidecker as the nightmare version of the asshole white neighbor who’s already bad enough. As in Get Out, white characters get to be the sort of off-to-one-side comic caricature dead-men-walking the likes of Gregory Hines, Paul Winfield and even Samuel L. Jackson used to get stuck with in genre films.
The unsettling invasion scenes and physical confrontations are brilliantly-staged and suspenseful, but Peele can’t resist stopping for monologues that make great audition pieces but ought to be deleted scenes (a habit he shares with Rod Serling, as it happens). It’s good overall, probably one of the genre standouts of the year, but could really have done with Roger Corman in the edit suite insisting the whole thing be cut to 73 minutes to fit on three reels.