Us

Director: Jordan Peele.
Screenplay: Jordan Peele.
Starring: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Tim Heidecker, Madison Curry, Anna Diop, Cali Sheldon, Noelle Sheldon, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.

“They look exactly like us. They think like us. They know where we are. We need to move and keep moving. They won’t stop until they kill us… or we kill them”

When Get Out hit the screens in 2017, it was one of the few films that genuinely earned the positive word of mouth and appreciation that many critics and viewers afforded it. It marked the arrival of Jordan Peele as a new voice for horror despite him being better known as a comedian and it also done no harm to Peele’s reputation when he earned himself an Academy Award for Best Screenplay. With that, there was much anticipation for his follow-up feature and it’s with delight that Peele matches his previous work and shows that contemporary horror is in very capable hands.

Plot: While vacationing in Santa Cruz, California, Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o), her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and their two children plan on spending time with their friends and getting away from their busy schedule. However, Santa Cruz beach brings back unsettling childhood memories for Adelaide and causes her to feel very protective of her family while there. During the night, her fears are realised when four mysterious intruders break into their home. As if this isn’t enough, the strangers also happen to look exactly like each of the family members save for the odd grotesque differences and very off kilter behaviour.

Now that The Twilght Zone has been revived for a 2019, contemporary audience, it’s fitting that writer/director Jordan Peele has been the one to assume the iconic role of Rod Serling – who originally created the sci-fi horror show in the 1950’s – and introduce the new episodes. Peele seems very attuned to similar dark and twisted tales and with only two films under his belt, he is already one of the most interesting horror directors on the market. Us, however, is much more than just a horror. As Peele had already proven with Get Out, he’s able to construct many layers and interpretations to his writing that make them important socio-political commentaries on modern America. Get Out challenged the dark, racist angle of white privilege while Us delves deeper into exploring the increasing inequality between the upperclass and the underclass. One of the biggest indications and motifs used is the obvious references to “Hands across America”. For those that are unfamiliar, this was a campaign in the mid 1980’s that encouraged the public to literally hold hands for fifteen minutes and form a human chain across the United States continent to raise money for charities to fight hunger and homelessness and help those in poverty.

I digress here slightly, but it does play an important role in the themes of the film and the polarising characters at the films centre. Peele is driving home a sociopolitical message and it’s quite cleverly and creatively thought through. You could also argue that the title of the film itself is less than subtle by suggesting that it isn’t solely about “Us” as a pronoun but “US” as in United States. This is just a small example of the layers abound within Peele’s writing but if you put these layers aside, the film still operates on a basic level that can be enjoyed by all. It’s entirely up to the viewer whether they want to explore the films deeper meanings of duality, privilege and opportunity or just enjoy the experience as a gripping horror masterwork.

Aided immeasurably by It Follows cinematographer Mike Gioulakis, Peele is able to create a hugely effective and foreboding atmosphere. There’s a palpably unsettling vibe that courses throughout the film which is displayed from the offset in its hall of mirrors opening sequence. After this impressive opening, he allows us to catch our breath before revealing his intentions layer by layer and the film only grows more intense as it progress. That said, Peele’s background in comedy is also shrewdly utilised. For such an unsettling horror there is a welcome amount of humour to alleviate the effortless chills. This is mostly delivered by Winston Duke’s affably loveable husband who takes some time to grasp the seriousness of the situation but it’s also displayed in American rapper KRS-One’s “Sound of da police” blasting from a stereo during a pivotal death scene. I’ll say no more on that but the humour is mainly from the performances that the entire cast bring to the project. They all get the chance to play dual roles and it’s fun to see them switch from one to another but, ultimately, it’s a horror film and the marvellous Lupita Nyong’o steals the show as the loving mother and her vengeful doppelgänger – with chillingly hoarse and hollow vocalisations. Her transformation truly is a work of brilliance and it’s astonishing to think it’s the same actress that you see onscreen before you. Us was probably released too early in 2019 to be remembered come awards season but the work of Nyong’o deserves all (if any) recognition that comes her way.

Verdict: Jordan Peele makes good on his early promise and delivers a film that’s awash with pop-cultural references and a biting satirical humour. However, he doesn’t forget that the film’s sole purpose is to chill and unsettle. It certainly achieves that and the numerous interpretations and layers to the film will reward multiple viewings which is proof alone how clever it is. It heralds a new voice for horror but it’s also encouraging to see a director be so subversive and unafraid on their commentary of modern America and to do so through a mainstream medium.

Mark Walker

Trivia: In keeping with the film’s theme of duality and the concept of two identical parts making up one whole, one of the VHS tapes seen near the television at the beginning of the film is The Man with Two Brains (1983).

4 Responses to “Us”

  1. Nice. I loved this movie too and saw it to be a big step-up from “Get Out”. It made my Top 20 and would easily be a Top 10 movie for me if the year wasn’t so stacked. Great review my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Many thanks brother. It’s been very high on my list of Top Ten’s for quite some time. It’s too early for me to finalise but there’s no doubt this’ll make it for me. I thought it was fantastic. Loved the layers and interpretations much like you did with Joker.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “…he work of Nyong’o deserves all (if any) recognition that comes her way.

    Oh, I so agree. Unfortunately, I believe the vaunted Academy is going to forget this early release and that will be a damn shame. Nyong’o deserves all the praise that comes her way.

    Liked by 1 person

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