In the Heat of the Night



A Film Review by Tim Riley

US (Rated R)


Jordan Peele, the writer, and director behind the surprise hit thriller “Get Out,” follows up with his sophomore outing in the unnerving “Us,” an identity crisis story steeped in bloody horror and plot twists. Having first established himself as a comedian teamed with Keegan-Michael Key, Peele is uniquely positioned to weave comedic elements for bright spots of levity into work that might otherwise be too mind-bending. Nevertheless, Peele is seemingly obsessed with symbolism, some of which takes time to be revealed as meaningful.  After all, you may ask yourself what’s up with all the white rabbits in cages stacked high in an underground room? Significant imagery takes hold in the opening flashback to 1986 when advertising for the Hands Across America event to fight poverty flashes on a television screen, which makes sense only later on.

This 1986 prologue finds young African-American girl Adelaide (Madison Curry) vacationing with her parents in Santa Cruz, where the summer fun of the boardwalk amusement park beckons. Wandering off the beach into a hall of mirrors funhouse named “Find Yourself,” Adelaide gets lost and during a frantic search for an exit comes face to face with another young girl that looks like an evil twin. In the present day, Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o), along with her husband Gabe (Winston Duke), teen daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and young son Jason (Evan Alex), return to her summer childhood vacation home on a lake near Santa Cruz.

When Gabe insists that the family take an outing to the same Santa Cruz beach to join their friends Kitty (Elisabeth Moss) and Josh (Tim Heidecker), Adelaide is filled with dread as the childhood trauma of seeing her scary doppelganger has not faded. Later that night, a power outage leads to the discovery of the ominous presence of two adults and two children standing voiceless in Wilson’s driveway, not responding to Gabe’s repeated inquiries about their intentions.

What happens next is a home invasion where the four intruders turn out to be nearly identical to each Wilson family member, all of them mute except for Adelaide’s double who speaks with a hoarse voice barely rising above an ominous whisper. The scissor-wielding “shadow” figures are dressed in red jumpsuits which suggest an allegorical reference to prisoners heretofore tethered in the thousands of miles of underground tunnels in America noted in the title card in the film’s opening credits.

Of course, things become weirdly violent and chilling as the strange creatures pull no punches to stake their claim to the world aboveground.  Only death awaits those unwilling or unable to fight back or flee. Flight from danger for the Wilson family is fraught with intense terror and suspense, but escape from the imposters is not any easier than the encounters with evil in typical slasher films. “Us” packs an interesting punch of audacious horror but any serious thought about the sociopolitical context Jordan Peele leads to passionate debate.

Actor Tim Robbins and Screenwriter Ron Shelton speak onstage at the screening of ‘Bull Durham’


The TCM Classic Film Festival’s website is now complete with its scheduling for its tenth-anniversary return to Hollywood from April 11th to the 14th for a movie lover’s orgy of cinematic pleasures. Most appropriate for this year’s theme entitled “Follow Your Heart: Love at the Movies,” the opening night presentation is the 30th anniversary of “When Harry Met Sally…,” with stars Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal and director Rob Reiner participating in a discussion. Should opening night tickets not be available, “Dark Passage,” the third film starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall together, is a great alternative.  Wrongly convicted of murdering his wife, Bogart escapes clearing his name with the help of Bacall.

As if it’s not difficult enough to choose a film on the first night, the original “Ocean’s 11,” which captured the essence of “cool” in this 1960 heist film that brought together The Rat Pack, with Frank Sinatra masterminding an ingenious plan to rob five Las Vegas casinos. The Rat Pack members, also including Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop, may be long gone, but Angie Dickinson, having played the spouse to Danny Ocean, is still around to participate in a discussion.

Dickinson is also on hand for a presentation of Don Siegel’s direction of the 1964 version of “The Killers,” notable for the fact she was the femme fatale slapped around by Ronald Reagan, the perennial good guy, in his last and only film in which he played a vicious mob boss. Fans of the “Star Wars” franchise should rejoice in the Saturday viewing of the 1977 original “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope” in an IMAX presentation.  Many would argue that this is the ultimate masterpiece of science-fiction.

TCM unearths the gems of a bygone era.  “Blood Money” is the ultimate pre-Code film, with a leading lady who’s a masochistic kleptomaniac, jokes about hemorrhoids, and wall-to-wall civic corruption. No matter the genre or the era, the Film Festival has offerings that appeal to a wide range of taste.

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