Written by Daniel Callaghan.
Directed by Jordan Peele, Us is the director’s second venture into the horror genre following 2017’s Get Out. Despite coming from a mainly comedy background, I was amazed at how well Peele was able to segue into another film genre that seamlessly, while also incorporating surprisingly poignant themes and commentary. Now that we have Us, I am glad to say that he has made lightning strike twice, having created another solid horror movie.
Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke star as Adelaide and Gabe Wilson, a married couple who are on vacation with their children in Santa Cruz. While they are there, however, they find themselves under assault from another family that looks exactly like them, doppelgängers known as the Tethered. The only difference is that this other family is far more savage and animalistic than their counterparts, bent on killing the Wilson family, whatever the cost. While these events transpire, Adelaide is forced to confront the demons of her past if she is to keep her family safe.
Whereas Get Out felt more like a mystery thriller with elements of horror, Us is more a straight-up horror film. The story plays out more like a modernised Twilight Zone episode, where in this case, the main aim of the film is to address the fear of ourselves, an alternate us that represents our darkest fears of an evil twin. Despite the idea of doppelgängers being used in horror before, Peele still manages to make it feel fresh and new. This is mainly due to its unconventional execution, but I can’t quite go in-depth as to why without spoiling the story. A small issue that I have is that the film is trying to address social issues like Get Out did, but they’re not as easy to understand. It’s also unfair to compare the two since they are quite different in delivery, but I have to admit that Get Out handled its social commentary in a clearer way that also didn’t feel somewhat contrived. Despite this, Us stands on its own as a suitably intense and engrossing horror experience.
If there’s one element to the story that I did find both a strength and a weakness, it would be the film’s use of comedy. To clarify, Peele’s comedy roots work well for a good portion of the film, and I’ll go on record and say that I laughed quite a bit. However, the moments in which the tension is at its peak, only to be undercut by a funny one-liner, can’t help but feel out of place and they undercut the drama and the horror that the film is going for. Like I said, however, at least the humour does work, and I’d rather have a movie with occasionally jarring comedy but makes me laugh than one that doesn’t.
When it comes to the central character of Adelaide, I was not disappointed by Lupita Nyong’o’s dual performance. While the other actors do well, Us is very much her film and she owns it. She is incredibly believable as an unsettled mother with a troubled past who just wants to forget it and live her life with her family. With that said, it is Nyong’o’s turn as her doppelgänger, Red, that I won’t be forgetting anytime soon. Not only is she mesmerising as the leader of the Wilson family’s Tethered, Red is one of the most terrifying presences that I’ve seen in a horror film for quite some time. From the way that she talks, to how she widens her eyes and how she has no remorse for anything that she does, it all makes for a genuinely terrifying character.
As for the rest of the actors and their characters, everyone is excellent. Winston Duke gets most of the funny lines as Gabe Wilson, and while they can seem out of place, he still manages to deliver them well and makes for a convincing family man. While his Tethered self doesn’t have much to do beyond being the muscle of his family, he still fulfils his purpose as an intimidating monster. Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex also give strong performances as the Wilson children, and are also unsettling as their Tethered counterparts. Elizabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker, while not given a whole lot to do, fit their parts very well as another couple that the Wilson family interact with.
In terms of production value, Us has all bases covered for a good horror film. The violence is very believable, and both the sound and lighting emulate the film’s atmosphere superbly. The cinematography by Mike Gioulakis greatly heightens the disturbing tone of the story, making excellent use of close-ups and tracking shots to emphasise the film’s surreal and dreamlike atmosphere. The wonderful score by Michael Abels also emphasises the horror within the film, making good use of classic violin while also incorporating a creepy choir throughout.
Despite a few out-of-place comedic moments and some slight lack of clarity as to its overall message, Us still stands as a massively entertaining and engrossing horror film, benefiting greatly from its execution, strong performances, excellent production value and even a few good laughs. It may not have Get Out’s depth, but Us doesn’t feel as though it’s trying to replicate it. This reaffirms that Jordan Peele is a horror name to look out for, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.