“Us” offers a chilling addition to the horror genre with an indescribable twist.
With the follow-up to his wildly successful directorial debut with 2017’s “Get Out,” director Jordan Peele has again proven himself to be a rising visionary in speculative horror. “Us” follows mother Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) and her family during their beachside vacation in Santa Cruz, which takes a terrifying turn when the Wilsons are confronted by their bloodthirsty dopplegangers. What starts as an intriguing installment in the home invasion subgenre encroaches beyond the restrictive confines of the home toward apocalypse, once it is revealed that they are not the only ones being attacked by their duplicates.
Boasting a star-studded cast, the film comes off more than anything as a spectacle of Nyong’o’s miraculous acting skills. Nyong’o matches her already wonderfully desperate performance as the fiercely protective Adelaide with a truly terrifying dual performance as her vengeful doppelganger, Red. As soon as Nyong’o first speaks as Red, dominating the scene with her guttural rasp, she instantly solidifies herself in the canon of iconic horror villains. Nyong’o’s coarse utterances and bug-eyed, chin-high facial contortions mark a performance for the ages, delightfully unsettling and remarkable in its delivery. Nyong’o has sensibly apologized for drawing inspiration from a neurological disorder called spasmodic dysphonia upon receiving criticism from disabled rights activists. The film is additionally anchored by a superb supporting cast, with Winston Duke as Adelaide’s husband, providing sporadic comedic relief through Peele’s brand of absurdist humor, and possibly the second greatest performance given by the young Shahidi Wright Joseph as their cheeky daughter Zora.
“Us” is a relentless, gripping ride that rarely ever pauses for a breath. Constrained within a single night, the film leaves viewers suspended in a state of unforgiving emergency, as the Wilson family fights for survival while the surrounding world implodes on itself. It would not be a stretch to say that the film’s foreboding and oppressive atmosphere would not be nearly as successful without its fantastic soundtrack. Michael Abels, who also worked on the score for “Get Out,” lends his genius to the film’s remix of Luniz’s “I Got 5 On It,” which is sure to induce mass panic in its accompaniment to the film’s wonderfully choreographed climactic battle.
With his latest film, Peele presents an intriguing paradigm shift in his artistic philosophy by re-focusing the figure of an unknowable other as the producer of horror onto ourselves. In the end, what is revealed by the relation between our real world selves and our vengeful clones presents a puzzling situation that defies a traditional binary of good versus evil, that instead asks what if certain facets of our own human selves unconscionably bring about apocalypse? Peele may have insisted that despite having a black-led cast, his film does not address issues of race, but that does not mean “Us” is entirely apolitical, breaching still on themes of class division and its deep rootedness in the American social fabric. Whereas “Get Out” derived horror from an explicitly racist evil of faux liberalism, “Us” focuses on the guilt of a subconscious ignorance to the worlds in which we inhabit and the hyperbolic trajectory such lack of consciousness may set society towards.
“Us” is a masterclass in suspense and narrative worldbuilding — once the horror begins, it’s a rush of action that won’t let go until its penultimate (albeit sloppily executed) twist. Peele has intricately crafted a truly unique new world built on what is already there, inventively incorporating 80’s nostalgia and abandoned national landmarks into its narrative fabric. Peele has again shown himself to be a creative genius, staking himself to be an exciting new face in the American horror canon. We are just witnessing the beginning.
Director: Jordan Peele
Starring: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elizabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Shahidi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex
Release Date: March 22, 2019
Image courtesy of Rolling Stone.