Haunted by a scarring childhood encounter at Santa Cruz beach, Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) returns to her family holiday home with her husband (Winston Duke) and children (Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex). Their peace is broken by the arrival of a group of doppelgängers with a terrifying motive.
A lot was made of Peele’s era-defining filmmaking debut. Get Out was brutally topical, turning an eye inward to look at systemic societal racism in a twisted tale of conspiracy and brain swapping – heavy stuff for a comedian. But what the film offered in social examination it lacked in actual scare or entertainment value. Get Out was predictable and ham-fisted in making its (valid and valuable) points. Peele has certainly tweaked his formula with Us, offering the same critical eye with an equal intention to cause audible gasps of shock and horror (on numerous occasions throughout the showing).
At its heart Us is a grander, more ambitious, and more successful cut-throat commentary on American society than its predecessor. Peele has his sights set on Capitalism and Classism itself in this brutal tale of our dark reflections emerging to terrorise us out of complacency. This metaphor is paraded front and centre in a proverbial wheelbarrow full of messages throughout the film. Us opens with an ad for the 1986 ‘Hands Across America’ benefit campaign. The event was dogged by funding issues (less than half of the money raised was donated) and derided as a superficial publicity stunt. Smiling people stretch hand-in-hand across the TV, with a disinterested Adelaide (as a child) staring blankly beyond the images into her own reflection on the screen. A clever foreshadowing of the haves and have-nots narrative to come.
This initiates layers of symbolism, symmetry, and messages throughout Us, meandering like a labyrinth of subterranean tunnels but somehow all ending up in the same place. Hidden numbers, screen doubles, and rabbits are just some of the recurring images across the 120-minute run time, leaving many (including myself) initially stumped. But this is the film’s beauty. It’s meant to make us react first and think afterwards. Adelaide’s family, when fighting their savage doubles, learn more about themselves in the quiet moments afterwards with weapons in hand than they could otherwise.
The performances, from the whole cast, are excellent. The leading actors have a rare chance to play doubles of the same character, which can be difficult to do without being too campy. Nyong’o dominates the screen with a demanding and mesmerising performance – a choregraphed fight with her double towards the film’s climax is pure barbaric ballet. Duke, meanwhile, embodies both goofy comic relief and traditional lurching horror movie antagonist in his character and double. Both child actors put in strong showings, while Elisabeth Moss steals every scene as the rose swilling rich friend Kitty.
There is so much else to like about Us. The directing is triumphant, disorientating and building tension as needed. The script is packed with the detail that comes naturally to a true screenwriting expert and a horror nerd. The musical score is haunting and, perhaps, the most distinctive I’ve ever heard. Keep you ears close to the ground for a hilarious moment involving the NWA.
Us is a good horror film, a stellar example of how to use subtle metaphor to tell a story, and a bloody fantastic time.
Us will be the best horror film of 2019. Hopping across tropes and stereotypes to deliver sweeping commentary on American society, stop whatever you’re doing and go see this. 8.5/10.