From the same whimsical mind that brought you comedic hits such as “Slap ass”, “I said ‘biiiiiiiiiiitch’”, and “The Key and Peele East v. West Bowl”, comes a bloody nightmare about doppelgängers who never blink or speak but want to slice your face off with rusty scissors. Actually, now that I say that, maybe someone should go check on Jordan Peele. Just make sure everything is alright. The Academy Award-Winner has taken the necessary steps to prove that his debut masterpiece “Get Out” was no fluke and that he is the king of social-conscious horror, but this is such a departure from his comedy roots, you can’t help but feel concerned that this is a cry for help.
“Us” is a story that centers mainly around the Wilson family on their vacation to Santa Cruz. The mother, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) had a traumatic experience at the very same beach they are visiting when she was a child in the 80s that left her suffering from PTSD, when she wandered into a hall of mirrors and saw a real child who looked like her but was not her reflection. Unable to share her experience for the longest of times, Adelaide has a creeping paranoia about her and she just knows something bad is going to happen to her while she is there. And wouldn’t you know it, something bad does happen! When their doppelgängers called “the Tethered” appear in their driveway one night, a bunch of whacky shenanigans ensue with blood, murder, stalking, and ZERO blinking whatsoever.
The film appears to be a by-the-book slasher film about a home invasion, and for a solid chunk of the runtime, it colors within the lines, albeit, quite well, but it expands into a larger world soon enough. I am not a typical patron of horror films because I do not enjoy the feeling of being terrified while I am trying to enjoy myself. However, “Us” is the exception to that rule. During the introduction to the Tethered, there was something alluring about impending sense of reckoning that the film portrayed. Knowing that Jordan Peele is not one to simply introduce something without a greater purpose, I found myself on the edge of my seat, eager for the explanation as to why everyone has an evil double. It was a proper mix of fright and exposition, which was key in building investment into both the family and the Tethered. I will not spoil anything, but the payoff is satisfying and it had me contemplating deeper meanings for days afterwards.
The Tethered, themselves, are freaky. Evil doubles are not exactly a new concept in film but “Us” creates a slowly unraveling mystery as to their purpose and why they are the way they are. Each Tethered is portrayed by the same actor that plays their corresponding normal person, but the combination of lighting, makeup, and brilliant acting by everyone in the film make it seem as though they are different people who look just similar enough. Zora’s (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason’s (Evan Alex) Tethered need special mention. I am not usually the biggest fan of child actors, but when they are good, DAMN are they good. Both of them portrayed what I felt were the most dangerous characters in the entire film, all with simple ticks and no dialogue. Zora’s Tethered, named Umbrae, had her eyes always wide open and the most devious smile, and Jason’s Tethered, named Pluto, wore a mask and was an obsessive pyro-maniac. Absolute nutjobs.
As far as the lead goes, Lupita Nyong’o is brilliant. Between playing Adelaide and her Tethered, Red, she did so much for this film. Carrying the burden of bringing exposition, human-connection, and stakes to the film, she unleashes possibly her best performance of her career. And with Red, she is given free run to act as a demonic, calculating maniac with no eyebrows. I am a fan of actors effectively modulating their voice to portray a character, and Lupita does a praiseworthy job creating a perfect voice for Red that is both reasonable to accept and horrifically unsettling. I may be the only one who cares, at least at this point, but if I hope she gets nominated for an Oscar for this. I do not care how many period dramas are released between now and next year’s Academy Awards, I am willing to bet there will be no lead who will match Lupita’s performance, as far a difficulty and execution go. I just hope that she gets the recognition she deserves.
Jordan Peele has built his film reputation on providing deeper meanings to the horror genre. His first film “Get Out” did not leave much to the imagination with regards to its message. It hit you over the head with it and made sure you understood what it was trying to tell you. “Us” is a bit more subtle. Topics like classism, inequality, and free will are definitely discussed, but we are not given a definitive moral stance by Peele. That is the beauty of the execution of the film. We are given just enough for our minds to wander down the rabbit hole and solve the problem on our own. There is symbolism littered throughout the film that keen eyes will notice and theorize about for the foreseeable future. Even something as small as the scissors used as bloody weapons can be totems that represent parallelism. As long as you are thinking about the topics and trying to connect the dots, the film has succeeded with its goal.
Peele also is ambiguous with his use of twists in the film. Obviously, I will not spoil any of those because that would be inhumane and take the venom out of the cobra for anyone who has not seen the film yet. But the vagueness the director uses allows the viewer to manipulate the film further in their own head. And the coolest part about that is that all those speculative conspiracies could be right. Peele does not give us all the answers yet again. Similarly to the messaging, he gives us just enough to complete the narrative while allowing us ample room to use our imagination to fill in more.
What you need to know about this film is that it can fill whatever role you want it to fill. Do you want a movie about social commentary? “Us” has that. Do you want a movie that is so bloody and horrifying that you can enjoy while turning your brain off? “Us” can be enjoyed that way. “Us” is a perfect combination of the two. It is just so hard to believe that Xmus Jaxon Flaxon Waxon is the new king of horror.
I would give “Us” a bloody 9.0 out of 10.
Directed by: Jordan Peele
Starring: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elizabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex
Runtime: 1 Hour and 56 Minutes