Creeping up on audiences so no one knew what to expect, Us is the second film from Jordan Peele and very much has the feel of a director settling into his groove and having the confidence to take his audience in brave new directions.
It’s testament to Peele that the hype for Us has been so high. It was only on Christmas day of 2018 that we received the first trailer for his follow-up to Get Out and it soon set tongues wagging and fingers typing. Some speculated it was tied into the same world experienced in Get Out, while others just wondered what the hell was going on. Needless to say, the images of a group of doppelgangers invading the home of Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke was enough to give viewers goosebumps.
Given the scarcity of detail in the trailers it’s safe to say that Us is not what you expected. Peele’s ability to set up a world, make you feel comfortable in it and then completely tear it apart is one of his many skills. Us does just that. Taking the beach or a family’s own holiday home – things that are meant to be fun and comforting – and turning their surroundings into halls of sheer terror is not a skill many others can apply – Peele does this with ease, and manages to make the everyday seem positively chilling.
Much like Get Out, Us is a film full of societies issues. It has often been said that great horror directors and their films will take the issues of the day and find a way to make them relevant in their films. Look at Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead for a society in the throes of change and revolution. Carpenter’s The Thing and its remarks on identity and being unable to trust those around you in case they are different. Or the cold war type paranoia symbolised in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
It’s these types of films that one presumes has influenced Peele greatly, especially when making his sophomore effort. Not unlike Get Out, there are elements of race on display here, the need to keep up appearances with others, for men to be presented as alpha males and have no visible signs of weakness and only to look stupid when called upon. There are other issues such as societies neglect of those less well off than us, the abandonment of those who need our help more than others and the shifting of gears of a world that does not really care for its fellow man. Us is also shit scary.
One of the very ideas of horror is to make the viewer feel uncomfortable. Be it through gore, paranoia or something worse. Us manages all of this. Led by the excellent Nyong’o, Us teeters between being a good film and being an excellent one. It is largely due to the performance of Lupita as the long-suffering Adelaide and her disturbing doppelganger Red. Switching between the two both physically and vocally is an astonishing ask, but forever devoted to her craft she puts in a performance that is at the very least deserving of awards attention when that terrible season comes back round again.
Likewise, Winston Duke deviates between the silly yet charming Gabe, to the domineering Abraham – bringing some of that M’Baku strength with him from Black Panther. Notable too are the young performances of Evan Alex and Shahadi Wright Joseph as the family’s children. All burdened with their own demons – anxiety, jealousy, tension and we see a family fighting the battles we all must overcome. Then adding in a group of doppelgangers who have all of their attributes is a frightening look at our deepest fears. Much like The Shining and Jack Torrance’s descent into madness, are we stopping the evil from getting in or more frightened that we might let it out?
This would all mean little if Us wasn’t pants changing scary. There are jumps, there are terrors but most importantly there is the overbearing sense of dread created right from the off. The dare not look, but damn it you have to scenario that defies you to look away – all the while knowing you will do the exact opposite. It’s a chilling story and one made all the more apparent with the director’s evident social commentary and his ability to deeply unsettle the audience. Peele and Nyong’o deserve all the applauds Us receives – from the questions it asks of the audience, to its impressively well-placed soundtrack and its superb visuals Us is already begging for a re-watch.