Us Shows Off Jordan Peele's Brilliance, While Out of Blue Is a Lynchian Treat

Lupita Nyong'o in Us
Lupita Nyong'o in Us Universal Pictures
Us. There’s something deeply satisfying about watching Jordan Peele’s Us unfold. It’s a film that wears its influences on its sleeve — everything from Alfred Hitchcock to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, with a bit of an oddball leaning a la Richard Kelly, albeit in a more palatable, less thematically ambitious fashion. Yet it still manages to craft an original narrative out of themes and ideas that have existed within horror for decades.

Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Evan Alex, and Shahadi Wright Joseph star as both a family on vacation and the doppelgängers that spark a chaotic journey through horror subgenres, each actor bringing something unique to the performances that feel inspired by past works. Nyong’o shines because of Peele’s fascination with the emotional arcs of both her characters, tying into a narrative that, for better or worse, features more explanation than needed and one too many scenes that damage the nearly two hours of riveting horror filmmaking that accompany it.

And, boy, what a thrill ride those hours are, as Us strikes a rather perfect balance of genuine scares and tension-relieving laughs amidst familiar beats and crowd-pleasing kills. Peele gives his film a mystical quality, not dissimilar to the way Twilight Zone (which he’s bringing back to CBS this year) often blended reality with fantasy, though there’s less interest in placing social commentary at the forefront here than in Get Out.

Peele and cinematographer Mike Gioulakis create a genuinely unsettling atmosphere, extending fear from the darkest rooms to the brightest beaches. Michael Abels’ music, be it the haunting choral tracks or the unsettling ambient, string-heavy pieces, cranks the fright up higher. Even when the film leans into some of its dumber scripting, it’s clear Us exists to show us what a damn fine director Jordan Peele is, and how much love for horror there is deep in its bones. Opens wide Thursday, March 21.  — Juan Antonio Barquin

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Julianne Moore in Gloria Bell
Gloria Bell. “Some days I’m happy, some days I’m not,” Julianne Moore’s Gloria Bell says somewhere between sulking and smiling to hide her pain. This, paired occasionally with tears or genuine joy, is the entirety of Gloria Bell: an ongoing assault of dramatically inert scenes that shift between someone reminding the titular character that she’s old or a song interrupting to narrate her life.

Meeting a man? Enter “No More Lonely Nights.” A breakup? “Alone Again (Naturally).” Having a conflict of emotion? Bonnie Tyler reminds you that every now and then she falls apart in “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” It’s an admittedly wonderful collection of tunes that comes across as way too on the nose for the film’s own good, especially when compared with director Sebastián Lelio’s original Chilean movie.

The same issues that were present in the Paulina García-starring original (and in Lelio’s other films like A Fantastic Woman and Disobedience) are present here. His brand of female-led feature typically involves an onslaught of misery and obstacle thrown at a woman until she settles for her lot in life. Moore does what she can with this character, but it’s a lackluster performance due to Lelio’s avoidance of any traits other than martyrdom. The mundane nature of Gloria Bell's life could be interesting in a film that focused on the repetitive nature of life, but here everything feels pointless, from a drive to work to a date with a bored-looking John Turturro.

One might expect the visuals to pop in this remake, but the film looks oddly washed out and uninspired, with Moore's frequent dances presented solely in a medium shot and never filmed or cut to explore how she moves. For all its posturing as a film about a woman finding herself, all of Gloria Bell's parts ring false. There's no interest in exploring how or why she finds joy in things like dancing or dating or dinner with her family. She's just miserable until she occasionally isn't, and the film goes on and on and on until Laura Branigan sings and the audience is spared any more time in this empty work of art. Opens Friday, March 22, at the Landmark at Merrick Park, AMC Sunset Place 24, and AMC Aventura 24. —Juan Antonio Barquin

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Patricia Clarkson in Out of Blue.
Courtesy of IFC Films
Out of Blue. With her third feature film, British writer-director Carol Morley unleashes a chaotic but controlled vision of people’s confounding desire to understand “why.” It’s the first word out of the mouth of a person of interest in the murder of astronomer Jennifer Rockwell (Mamie Gummer). The question startles New Orleans Police Detective Mike Hoolihan (Patricia Clarkson). Normally people ask who or how, she says. Out of Blue, however, doesn’t want to tangle with such easy questions. It will confound and frustrate some viewers while delighting others, as it did this critic.

This is a movie for fans of David Lynch, a director who has made a career celebrating mystery and preferring the unknown above clear reasons or answers. Out of Blue’s elements recall Lynch to an extent: ‘50s nostalgia, strange dreams, faulty electricity, and even a brief musical sequence bathed in red and blue light with our victim singing Brenda Lee’s version of “I’ll Be Seeing You.” Still, Morley is not a copycat.

Unlike those who aspire to Lynchian heights, Morley makes the weirdness her own. It never comes across as heavy-handed, which is why it might throw off some viewers. Sometimes it delights, like a scene featuring a lady in vintage garb riding a Segway among shelves of antiques and nibbling on a single potato chip held in her gloved hand. In other moments it feels subtly woven into the fabric of the mundane, like the giant cutout face with sunglasses in the background of the police station, behind which a fellow detective appears and disappears. Told from Mike's perspective as a veteran homicide cop, it could very well be she's losing her mind and not quite aware of it. Then again, maybe the universe is naturally collapsing around her.

Just when you think the mystery is solved, glitches in perception occur; things and people simply disappear in odd ways that imply something more multidimensional may be going on. Out of Blue is really an ingenious kind of movie and never ceases to entertain. It’s filled with great heightened performances by the likes of James Caan and Jacki Weaver playing the mourning parents. Featuring quickly paced scenes filled with sly style, including what seems to be a canned detective movie soundtrack score featuring sax and skittery drums by the very capable Clint Mansell, Out of Blue is a bizarrely entertaining confrontation of the limits of what we know about other people, and maybe even what we might expect from a whodunnit. Opening Friday, March 22, at the Cosford Cinema in Coral Gables. — Hans Morgenstern

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Dev Patel in The Wedding Guest.
Courtesy of IFC Films
The Wedding Guest. You never know what to expect with a Michael Winterbottom film. The writer-director jumps through genres as few directors do. In the past, he’s done great respect to comedies as The Trip trilogy attests, directed powerful documentaries like The Road to Guantanamo (2006), and even done well by sci-fi standards (seek out 2003’s Code 46). This skipping through genres can sometimes, however, dilute a distinctive style. Winterbottom's newest film, The Wedding Guest, with Dev Patel starring and producing, feels like an exercise in suspense. Sometimes it works but sometimes it doesn’t. You’ll have to dig through the film’s subtleties to find the edginess buried a bit too deep within.

The film features Patel as Jay, a man who works for hire and is up to no good. The movie certainly takes its time to reveal his sinister motives: kidnapping a young woman in Pakistan who is about to be married. As Winterbottom works to keep things in the dark for a bit, he humanizes Jay, a clever approach to a nefarious fellow. However, we don’t get to know much more about him. After his purpose and mission come to light, all we see is a man skilled at lying low under the radar, whose connections with counterfeiters allow him to change identities, yet, beyond him Googling the kidnapping, we never see anyone in pursuit. Thus, the movie can feel pretty tiresome.

Luckily there’s Radhika Apte as Samira, a damsel in distress who proves to be so much more. She turns from obedient captive to a woman who can harness her feminine wiles to play on Jay’s vulnerability as a loner. Winterbottom and his director of photography, Giles Nuttgens, deserve credit for how they capture the gritty, bustling surroundings of India and Pakistan. It's even more interesting to watch Apte’s subtle performance as Samira as she tests the boundaries between her and her kidnapper. When she lays on that first kiss, it feels loaded with so much power that perhaps Jay needn't worry about any pursuers but about his own cargo. Now playing at the Landmark Merrick Park in Coral Gables. Opens Friday, March 22, at the Classic Gateway Theatre in Fort Lauderdale and Movies of Delray in Delray Beach. — Hans Morgenstern
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Juan Antonio Barquin is a Miami-based writer who programs the queer film series Flaming Classics and serves as co-editor of Dim the House Lights. Barquin aspires to be Bridget Jones.
Hans Morgenstern has contributed to Miami New Times for too many decades, but he's grown to love Miami's arts and culture scene because of it. He is the chair of the Florida Film Critics Circle, and most of his film criticism can be found on Independent Ethos ( if not in New Times.