After the incredible success of Get Out, Jordan Peele is back with another horror film, very different and not as solid as his debut but just as intriguing and relevant.
The action of Us takes place on the sunny beaches of Santa Cruz. It is there, where summer is best enjoyed in the oceanfront amusement park, that the Wilsons move into their beach house. Adelaide, Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave”, “Black Panther”), the mother, is a rather withdrawn woman quietly haunted by childhood traumas.
Her proximity to the beach, where she encountered something she shouldn’t have years ago, revives fears and paranoias that her husband Gabe, Winston Duke (“Black Panther”, “Avengers: Infinity War“) tries as best he can to assuage.
Yet, as the couple and their two children Zora, Shahadi Wright Joseph “The Lion King”, “Hairspray Live!”) and Jason, Evan Alex (“Kidding”, “Mani”) spend their first night in the summer home, the house is suddenly invaded by a family that eerily looks like them. What follows is a struggle to survive amidst cutting revelations and scissor stabbing.
Disappointingly, the film doesn’t work as best it should on a surface level. Besides Adelaide, her doppelgänger, and maybe her son Jason, none of the characters and their relationships are fleshed out enough to make us genuinely care, especially when confronted with their doubles who seem just as hollow as they are.
Similarly, while the mix of horror and humor is a blast when it works well (there is a particularly hilarious scene involving an Alexa-type of device), it also distances the viewers from the stakes. The result is a mixed-bag: the film could have benefited from a tighter pacing and the plot sometimes falls into predictable traps, but the cinematography from Mike Gioulakis (“It Follows”, “Glass“) is hauntingly beautiful, full of images that won’t leave your mind anytime soon, especially when complemented by Michael Abels’ chilling soundtrack (who had previously worked on Get Out).
The dual performances are another highlight, as each actor plays both their original character and the doubles. The young actors are very impressive and great performances are also put in by Elizabeth Moss (“The Square“, “Mad To Be Normal“) and Tim Heidecker (“Tim and Eric’s Bedtime Stories”, “The Comedy”), the superficial and dysfunctional neighbors of the Wilsons who, just like the Wilsons’ doppelgängers, act as a foil to the main family.
Rising above them all is Lupita Nyong’o, who gives another one of her many Oscar-worthy performances – her voice work for Adelaide’s double is especially noteworthy and one of the most memorable (and scary) part of the film. Us is worth-watching for her alone.
The original concept at the heart of the film is riddled with plot holes and would fall into pieces if scrutinized, but the fears into which it taps and the messages it conveys are, on their part, so very real that Jordan Peele makes it work nevertheless; especially with his attention to details that makes the film incredibly engaging to analyze.
Just like Get Out, the film works best when the social commentary is uncovered; however, unlike Peele’s debut feature, this layer of the film is never clear-cut: Us offers many different interpretations broaching various topics, none of which are fully explained on-screen.
Writing about the themes would inevitably spoil everything, but as many theories predicted, the film is equally about, well, us, than it is about the U.S., with interpretations that cover as much the personal than the national (and international) and that all lead to fascinating and insightful discussions that need to be had.
For this alone, Us is a must-see film regardless of the quality of the storytelling. Although I was unimpressed and disappointed after my screening, the film hasn’t left my mind for a minute, its many ideas and layers invading my brain at the same time as the horror slowly and eventually crept up on me. After all, isn’t it exactly the trademark of a great and successful psychological horror film?
22nd March 2019
THE QUICK SELL
A family's serenity turns to chaos when a group of doppelgängers begins to terrorize them.