Directed by: Jordan Peele
Written by: Jordan Peele
Starring: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex
Review by Mia Santos
Jordan Peele does it again with his second feature film Us by providing his audience with a more conventional horror this time compared to his debut Get Out. I would argue that Get Out was more a satire thriller packed with social commentary than a full-fledged horror. Us is very much of this genre and just like Get Out, the less you know going into it, the more enjoyable it will be. Like his debut, this film keeps you thinking about it and haunts you just enough after you will feel like you need to see it again.
The film opens with a chilling revelation that there are thousands of underground tunnels under the United States that have no known purpose. Then it takes us to 1986 in Santa Cruz where we’re introduced to a family vacationing on the boardwalk. Dad is trying to have a good time, but mom doesn’t seem as impressed by his win for his daughter, an oversized Michael Jackson’s Thriller tee shirt that he puts on her. It’s a very tense scene as dad tries to lighten the mood, but mom just isn’t having any of it. This opening takes a nightmarish turn when the little girl in this scenario runs off and finds herself in a dark funhouse full of reflections of herself looking back at her. She walks through as if something is leading her and begins to whistle “Itsy bitsy spider.” However in creepish, horror trope someone whistles back. What happens next… well I wouldn’t do you dirty and tell you. This is a movie that deserves to be seen and experienced not spoiled in a review.
I will touch on what is already known. The Wilson family goes on vacation where their trip takes an unexpected turn. A family that resembles them shows up on their driveway. Peele doesn’t explain how these doppelgängers dressed in red coveralls came to be letting our worst fears get the better of us as this home invasion plays out in front of our eyes.
Mother character Adelaide Wilson is played by Lupita Nyong’o, an Oscar winner who has only gotten better at her craft throughout the years. She also plays her tethered double, and they are vastly different roles to one another. The only similarity is their physical appearance. This role really displays how Nyong’o can hone two completely different characteristics, and it gives you chills. If the academy ever took horror films seriously, Lupita would be a shoo-in for another Oscar nomination. It might be too early to tell though.
Winston Duke plays Gabe, the dad who provides the much needed comic relief with his dad jokes and remarks during the terrible encounter with his family’s doubles. There is a funny scene where he grabs his daughter’s attention to dab at her. She replies with an “Eww dad!” The children Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex) are also spectacular in this film and play major roles to their family’s survival attempts. They also play their own unnerving doubles throughout the film. We’re also introduced to the Tyler family, friends of the Wilson who also have some stellar performances of their own. Elisabeth Moss’s character Kitty may have minimal screen time but her performance still resonates with the viewer.
Peele and his cinematographer, It Follows Mike Gioulakis really set the scene and provide a visceral feel to Us. They set an uneasy pace and use camera work to mimic quick movements, disorient and really play with our emotions. Sometimes showing us just enough of a scary situation but saving the big reveals for the finale like a well-done horror should.
This film also lends itself to a second viewing where you might be able to catch what you weren’t trained to look for the first go around. The film provides us with foreshadowing, imagery—white rabbits being one of them once again—and an interpretation of the movie that promotes discussion. Is Peele trying to make a statement about the gaps between human society like race, wages, class and social violence? Is he showing us the deep oppression of the lower class who are often ignored and stripped of their humanity through the eyes of the tethered ones?
Look out for the nods of influence and inspiration sprinkled throughout the film. Old VHS tapes of The Goonies and Nightmare on Elm Street are seen bordering the 80s television in the first scene. The Michael Jackson’s Thriller t-shirt and later Jason Jaws shirt are just some of the others. These really set a tone for what may have shaped Peele’s story. He, in turn, gives homage to while making it completely his own. The soundtrack is also something of a genius in my books. I’ll never listen to The Beach Boy’s “Good Vibrations” and Luniz “I Got Five On It” the same way again. The overall original score is once again beautifully done by composer Michael Abels. It really helps set the mood throughout the film as it did for Get Out. Another one of Abel’s creations.
See it! This film is definitely worth the big screen! Although Us it’s more traditional horror than Get Out, I feel it still caters to the those who can stomach a thriller a bit better. Also, what’s more safe than seeing a horror movie with a bunch of strangers than by yourself? There are a few jump scares here and there, but the story is so well done you’ll be invested and at the edge of your seat by the overall action going on.
My only complaint is the ending. Without spoiling the punchline, I will say I wish it wasn’t handed to us with a perfect bow. I would have much rather preferred being left in mystery of what may have gone down. I found the clean-cut ending really disappointing even though other aspects of the film has kept us in the dark. The bible verse referenced in the film provides a slight glimpse though. “Therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them.” Jeremiah 11:11.