WARNING: minor possible spoilers ahead
Jordan Peele’s latest study in terror has already kicked the door in at the box office (an estimated $70 million over the first three-day weekend) and has left audiences buzzing across the country. For good reason.
Us is Peele’s follow-up to his sparkling debut, 2017’s Get Out. The latter helped create a new corner of the horror shelf that only Peele seems to have mastered at this time and the former firmly stakes Peele’s flag as the master of this new era of thought-provoking terror.
In the theater I was in, I was not surprised to hear a number of younger audience members bemoaning the fact that the movie “wasn’t even scary” and “it didn’t even make sense”. I am not a movie snob in the slightest, but this can’t be understated here – Jordan Peele isn’t here to make scary movies that appeal to teeny-boppers. He’s here to lend his voice to a genre that has sorely lacked any sort of real perspective for some time.
Is Us a horror film? Of course it is. Is it “the scariest movie of all time”, as one commercial trailer lauds? No. But does a movie have to force audiences to sleep with the lights on in order to be considered a “horror movie”? Not at all. You see, this isn’t your typical popcorn blockbuster flick. It challenges you to understand what you are really seeing. The truth is right there in the title, but there’s still so much more to one of the best films of the year.
Peele asks audiences to turn the mirror on themselves (no pun intended here) and realize that there is a real problem in modern America and it’s not going away anytime soon. Sort of like the Tethered..
Us is the story of the Wilson family. Gabe (Winston Duke) and Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) take their children Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex) to their beach home for some fun in the summer sun. Things deteriorate quickly, however, as Adelaide’s anxiety about a childhood trauma overwhelms her. Dread sets in and eerie coincidences lead Adelaide to beg Gabe to take the family away from the home before the end of their first day. Of course, they don’t even get to leave before things get worse and bloodier. The family is pitted against The Tethered, their red jumpsuit-wearing doppelgänger, who are hell-bent on putting an end to the family. But why?
Secondly, Us is the story of Adelaide Wilson, the wife and mother haunted by a lifetime of paranoia and terror following a horrifying experience in a house of mirrors. Lupita Nyong’o delivers the best performance in a horror film since Toni Collette’s terrifying portrayal of a broken mother in 2018’s Hereditary. Nyong’o plays Adelaide with grace and vulnerability while flipping the script when she dons the red jumpsuit as Red, the chilling antagonist from somewhere…else?
Duke, who became a fan favorite thanks to his role in Marvel’s Black Panther, plays Gabe, the giant teddy bear of a father who provides the comic relief. While not nearly as enthralling as Nyong’o’s characters, that certainly isn’t his fault. Duke nails every shot he’s in.
Shahadi Wright Joseph, who plays daughter Zora and the evil mirror image Umbrae, instantly becomes a name to watch after this film. The raw emotion she displays throughout Us was one of those performances that had me marveling at just how good of an actor she is at such a young age. The same goes for Evan Alex, who plays son Jason/ Tethered Pluto. He puts out a performance that goes beyond his years.
Perhaps most importantly, Us is the story of America. Much like the Tethered counterparts to the Wilson family, most of us reading this article have struggled throughout life at one point or another while there are people seemingly just like us who have had it all made in the shade. Nyong’o’s monologues as Red upon introducing the character are some of the most well-written pieces of dialogue any film has offered in years. Striking imagery such as Gabe’s doppelgänger Abe struggling with his vision while his better-off mirror image dons stylish glasses cannot be ignored. Peele himself has stated that the film title had a double meaning and it doesn’t take much imagination to understand that Us is also a case study on U.S.
It’s not just the visuals on-screen that make Us a winner.
Michael Abels reconnects with Peele to provide another stirring soundtrack here. All of the critical acclaim goes to the unsettling remix of Luniz’s “I Got 5 On It” but if you are a horror soundtrack fan, do yourself a favor and lose yourself in the entire track list. It’s a nerve-racking journey through paranoia and suspense that is definitely one of the best soundtracks of the last decade, if not more.
I won’t go into full-blown details on the symbolism that is layered perfectly throughout the film, mostly because I simply don’t have enough time to do so – and because I probably missed a dozen or so easter eggs during my first viewing. You’ll notice nice nods to C.H.U.D, The Shining, Jaws and maybe even The Orphanage. If you’re a fan of animals and insects, this film’s got plenty for you to chew on between the spiders and the rabbits.
If you’ve seen the trailers and pay attention, the plot twist at the end of the movie becomes fairly clear early on. Peele’s film tells a story much deeper and real than a simple home invasion terror flick, and you’d better go into the theater expecting to have a lot more served up to you than a relatively stereotypical horror twist.
Us is one hell of a film and worthy of every dollar it will make at the box office and every accolade it receives from critics.