Writer/director/producer Jordan Peele is a smart, ambitious, skilled filmmaker. All three qualities are on display in his second effort — the story of a vacationing family whose members find themselves set upon by scissor-wielding doppelgängers — but that doesn’t quite make it a successful film. The final reveal feels too clever by half, the sort of thing that makes things less compelling upon further consideration instead of more. There are perhaps two or three themes too many — divine punishment, the divided self, our divided nation, even scientific overreach — for a film that is this heavy on fights and chases. And while it’s delightful to get clues as to what lies ahead from the opening shot — a commercial for Hands Across America to end hunger playing on a TV flanked by VHS tapes for C.H.U.D., Goonies, and A Nightmare on Elm Street — the symbolism eventually starts to feel intrusive, even academic. The result is bloody but weirdly bloodless, a sort of thinky exercise in horror filmmaking. There’s more juice in the laughs here than the scares, from the goofy way the “shadow people” parody their exemplars, to the groanworthy gag involving a botched Smart Home command. Still, there are exceptions: Lupita Nyong’o and Elisabeth Moss do fine, unnerving work in both their regular and irregular incarnations. Overall, it gives the impression of being a thoughtful crowd-pleaser, a combination which should be more than enough to grant Peele another shot at this sort of thing if he wants one.
Length: 2 hours