Us, is the latest horror film from Writer and Director, Jordan Peele. Debuting in 2017 with his racially tense horror / thriller Get Out, he is back with his second feature that is sure to knock the ‘scaredy pants’ off anyone that critiqued him for not making it scary enough, delivering a film based on the scariest thing there is: us.
The film begins in 1986, with all the nostalgia it can muster, and the audience is first introduced to its lead, Adelaide (Lupita Nyongo). Whilst on a night out with her family at the boardwalk in Santa Cruz she walks off from the side show attractions and her parents onto the beach alone, and as a perfectly timed sinister storm roles in, she enters an ominous hall of mirrors and the power just happens to go out. Cue the ‘dun dun dun’ music. Justifiably scared, she begins to panic as she frantically searches for the exit amongst her reflections until she stumbles across a mirror image that no mirror is responsible for.
Fast forward 30 years and we meet Adelaide again, fully grown, travelling back to her vacation home in Santa Cruz with her family. During the first few scenes as they’re settling into their home, the audience could be deceived into thinking they’d actually walked in to quite a sweet comedic family film, and not an R rated horror as Dad, Gabe, (Winston Duke) reveals his brilliant capabilities with dad jokes and the two seemingly normal children, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex), begin to play out the love hate relationship we’ve all come to expect of siblings in film.
Its not until the family is on their way to meet their typically wealthier and brilliantly vapid white family friends, played by Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker, that the ominous tone kicks back in with coincidental events bringing Adelaide and the audience back to that terrifying night on the boardwalk. Once getting home, Adelaide begins to open up to Gabe about the event that still haunts her and as the power again, perfectly timed goes out, the youngest child Jason looks out the window only to turn around and say the soon to be infamous line, “theres a family in our driveway.” To avoid spoilers, just know that from here the storyline gets truly twisted and horrific intentions of the doppelgänger family is revealed and all chaos unfurls between the tethered and those above the ground.
The film continues to perfectly balance subtle and much needed humour with the unnerving and violent progression of the story line. The audience will find themselves gasping, and grabbing for their neighbour’s hand, only to laugh with unexpected relief two minutes later. Heavily laced with coincidences and clues, make sure you pay attention to 11:11, the verse of Jeremiah first alluded to in the opening scenes, is the prevalent undertone for much of the film meaning. There is a wrath coming, and there will be no help.
Cinematography wise, this film is flawless. It is the intimacy of the camera angle and the closeness that makes the scarier scenes utterly terrifying. The perfect contrast of dark and violent scenes with breathtaking landscape views, again, keeping the audience guessing where exactly this is all going to go. As the film progresses, the staggering effort of each actor becomes more apparent as you begin to forget they are each playing both characters, utterly terrified above grounders and the utterly tormented tethered. Whilst Nyongo proves once again that she is one of this generation’s greatest actors, it is the children that really make you buy in. Moss does ditzy to demented with the commitment she is known for and Duke further cements his all rounder capabilities.
For all of its brilliance, Us does fall into the unfortunate but all too common trap of trying to be too brilliant. Peele, obviously with a lot to say about society’s current state, ends up saying a bit too much. It’s sort of like when you catch up with a friend you haven’t seen for a while, and they start a story and end up telling five others before getting to the end of the first. You’re invested, sure, but your head ends up running a mile a minute, not knowing what information was important, and being politely confused in response. Amongst its main story line, it touches on the political climate of 1980’s America and tethers it to the Trump agenda in current day, oppression, classism, government mind control and introduces the history of the underground tunnel system but never really gives it the context it deserves. And whilst the end twist is brilliant, it does raise as many, if not more questions than it answers and the plot flaws of Peele’s screenplay detract from the otherwise superbly executed film.
Perhaps the scariest part happens after you’ve left the film and all the little pieces start to fall into place. Peele’s true genius and the complexity of Us comes to the surface and you may find yourself asking, what if our biggest nightmare is actually ourselves? What if the people we think we know so well, aren’t who they say they are? What happens when our inner darkness comes to the surface? Could we survive it? Us forces you to answer those questions, whilst taking you on a haunting and twisted journey.
Us is every bit as chilling and unsettling as the trailer alludes. Peele, along with an astounding cast and production team deliver the kind of film that paves the way for a new era of horror, one that may just try to live among us, or at least force us to better understand ourselves. Be prepared for a slight existential crisis, a complete disenchantment with 11:11 and be kinder to your reflection, you know, just in case it turns out to be alive.
4 out of 5 Stars.