+ Recommended – R, Horror, Thriller, Comedy (121 minutes)
Jordan Peele, who surprised audiences with a deeply-layered directorial debut, Get Out (2017), is back with his second feature film. Yet again, Peele is flexing his style in the horror genre. However, this text shouldn’t be compared to Get Out in terms of narrative structure or core themes. Us is much more broad than the previous film. There is consistency, though: what I’m calling the “Peele Twist,” combined with narrative complexity and compelling characters who are easy to identify with, and even more entertaining to watch.
Us follows the Wilson family, who are vacationing in Adelaide’s (Lupita Nyong’o) beachfront home. Her past trauma, and worst fear, returns when four strangers break into her home. However, these strangers have something in common with the family: they appear to physically resemble each member of the family. The Wilson’s must learn the exact nature of the bizarre situation if they want to survive the night. In this nightmare, which teaches its audience to reflect on themselves as humans, it isn’t the “other” that one should be scared of; rather oneself.
Firstly, Us is much scarier than Get Out. While both films are categorized in the horror genre, Us feels much more dense and perhaps even more dreadful. If you’re a fan of bloody horror, this should also suffice for that. What’s interesting, however, is the amount of restraint Peele has for framing the kills. In a way, it reminds me of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The way you remember the events unfolding is never quite the same as what actually happened; much less is shown and more is implied, but that never detracts from the gruesomeness of the situation. And believe me, Us is truly harrowing at times.
The cast, which includes Winston Duke (Gabe Wilson), Shahadi Wright Joseph (Zora Wilson), Evan Alex (Jason Wilson), and Elisabeth Moss (Kitty Tyler), are phenomenal and work together effortlessly. Duke and Nyong’o, especially, are standouts but the child actors are able to match the level of talent. Their performances, with Peele’s witty touches on the script, make for some good laughs even in the darkest moments of the film. The piece is glued together by Michael Abel’s haunting score, which is orchestrated all throughout. It, alone, will make your skin crawl. Beyond the music and the cast, it’s Peele’s key framing, and consistent intercutting, that make for a delicate, yet insightful text about the way we view ourselves and the “other.”
I’m still contemplating the meaning of every shot and the careful planning behind the camera. Us is oddly familiar to Peele’s previous work because each film, while widely different, is smart. Don’t expect the answers going in, as I mentioned earlier; Us is broad and the themes aren’t as easily accessible as Get Out. It is not the latter and I can’t stress that enough. But there are striking similarities between the two, namely the style of filmmaking and the music (Michael Abel also composed Get Out‘s score).
Peele has his directorial DNA cemented, for the time being. He is nothing less than an extraordinary creator, whether or not Us resonates with all audiences. I’m still processing, as are many, but there are certain shots here that will stick with me for a while and demand a theatre audience to share that experience with. Make a trip this weekend.