Us | Jordan Peele | March 22, 2019
Jordan Peele returns a year later after winning Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars for Get Out. That film, while mostly a horror film, skewed mostly into satirical territory. The blood, terror, and jump scares were all there, but the underlying humor and absurdity of the theme really took things to a new level. If Get Out was a not-so-subtle metaphor, Peele’s new film Us veers a little bit further into the abstract. It’s more of a straightforward horror movie, but with ideas and scenes that will certainly be analyzed by horror fans in the coming weeks and years. It’s also very, very funny at times.
Us begins with Lupita Nyong’o as a child in 1986. Her character Adelaide (then played by Madison Curry), strays too far from her parents on a California boardwalk, ending up in a hall of mirrors. Something terrifying happens, and we then cut to present day. Adelaide is heading to a vacation home with her loveable goofball husband Gabe (Black Panther‘s Winston Duke) and their two children Zora and Jason (Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex). Adelaide’s anxiety grows as they reach their destination – Santa Cruz, near the beach and boardwalk where her childhood trauma occurred. The family is perfectly fleshed out in the first 30 minutes, thanks in part to the kids pranking one another. Gabe’s friends Kitty (Elizabeth Moss) and Josh (Tim Heidecker) are a suitably funny couple who have their issues. After a stressful PTSD experience on the beach with Adelaide, her family, and friends, things start to get weird.
During a conversation with Wade, four strangers appear out of the darkness and stand in the driveway of the home – all wearing red jumpsuits and wielding golden pairs of scissors. They invade the house, and are revealed to be the family’s doppelgangers, each with distinct differences from their counterparts. Adelaide’s doppel speaks in a low, almost strangled voice; Nyong’o plays both characters in truly amazing fashion. Gabe’s is almost a mute lunk with a blank lifeless stare. The horror begins for the terrified family, as they learn from the “evil” Adelaide (listed as Red in the credits) in one of the most commanding exposition scenes in recent memory that the doppelgangers are “tethered” to their counterparts. The other versions of the characters are truly scary and unpredictable, and the rest of the film is hard to talk about without spoiling.
The scenes and situations that follow are truly scary, yet lifted with sharply funny observation comedy. The absurdity of fighting your own doppelganger is on full display in Us. The children have the best reactions to just how ridiculous the whole scenario is. Having a lengthy background in comedy has served Peele’s horror career like no one else. He is able to show bloody violence, and have his characters react like real human beings. It makes the true moments of horror all more terrifying and raw.
The cast is pitch perfect. Even a seemingly out of place Tim Heidecker (of Adult Swim’s Tim and Eric) eventually fits right in with the world that Peele has created here. Elizabeth Moss also does some great and varied work, despite only having a few scenes with all the main characters. Peele is becoming a master at staging a setting, and making it as tense as possible. The camera and stunt work are also particularly impressive. A scene where both versions of Adelaide are fighting each other for supremacy is brutal, yet masterfully choreographed. How would you fight yourself, if you each knew each others’ moves? Composer Michael Abels returns for the score of Us, and it’s already one of the best horror compositions of the past 10 years. Every aspect of Us feels expertly crafted, which hopefully continues with Jordan Peele’s work. He is confident in the stories he tells, no matter how ridiculous or insane they can get. He goes all in.
Peele, once again, also has some threads for an underlying theme, just as he did in Get Out. Rather than have ideas on the surface, in Us, audience members may have to dig a little deeper. The cause of the doppelganger scenario, is actually explained by the end. However, the explanation does stir up more questions than answers. The final act comes with asterisks attached that are never fully explored. It doesn’t wrap up everything perfectly and there are some clunky third act moments, but that’s also what makes Us so fascinating. The ambiguity makes the journey more interesting. Is it an allegory about the “forgotten” citizens of America? Is it about personal identity being forged by moments outside of your control? It very well may be about these topics, or twelve others, all at once. That’s the beauty of this film. Once again, Jordan Peele gives you something to ponder after the blood settles.