Movie Review: ‘Us’
Director: Jordan Peele
Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heridecker
Plot: Adelaide, her husband and her children are headed to their summer house near Santa Cruz, a place she experienced a trauma in her childhood. Her fear resurfaces when her family is terrorised by demented and dangerous doppelgängers.
Review: I don’t think anyone expected comedian Jordan Peele to take a hard left with his career and become a master craftsman of horror. Like his debut feature Get Out Peele has added layers of symbolism and social commentary into Us. Whilst this sophomore effort isn’t quite as polished and thought out as Get Out, it’s a very, very good, haunting film that you will find yourself picking over for days afterwards.
Spoilers to follow.
If we had to pick one thing we love about Peele’s approach to horror films is the amount of detail and effort put into it. His use of symbolism is almost Kubrickian in how often props, dialogue and camera work is reincorporated back into the story at a later point. He never leaves an opportunity to add additional meaning to a shot unused.
The movie opens with young Adelaide drifting away from her parents whilst visiting the Santa Cruz boardwalk, finding herself in a hall of mirrors where she experiences a terrifying encounter. In the present day Adelaide (Nyong’o) is driving to a summer home with husband Gabe (Duke) and children Zora and Jason (Joseph and Alex). After revealing to Gabe her childhood trauma, Adelaide and her family experience a home invasion by a family of doppelgängers – known as the Tethered – who are intent on killing them.
Red, the twisted double of Adelaide, tells the family a story about a princess who lived a happy life while her shadow suffered, eating raw rabbit and being forced into marriage. The animalistic copies of Gabe, Zora and Jason – Abraham, Umbrae and Pluto – begin hunting their doubles. Whilst on the run they learn that this terrifying situation isn’t limited to their family, but is becoming widespread. Eventually Adelaide confronts Red and discovers the truth behind the Tethered and the unique link between them.
Once again Peele has used his mastery of comedic timing in building suspense, and there’s some genuinely heart racing moments. The performances of the actors are a big part of these nail biting moments being effective, as all the actors take on the additional role of their Tethered double. Nyong’o is especially brilliant, playing Red with a damaged voice and an unnatural precision to her movements. Each of the Tethers has an unnatural, inhuman aspect to them with Pluto running on all fours and Umbrae having a demented, twisted smile.
During the second act there is a lull in the narrative as we catch up with some of the supporting cast and the comedy elements of the script comes back to the fore. Peele using comedy much more frequently in Us than he did in Get Out and whilst it’s a highly effective way of endearing the characters to the audience there is one or two instances where is feels out of place. The sense of urgency that comes with being hunted by vicious doppelgängers takes a stumble here.
When the ending comes around there’s some twists and turns that don’t quite come out of nowhere, but certainly adds new meaning to the preceding events. Additional viewings are going to needed to see the degree to which the twist changes the meaning, and how it impacts on the commentary on class structure and the function of charity for the privileged. Peele is smart enough to avoid getting bogged down in explanations and leaves a few questions unanswered and instead leaves the focus on the impact rather than the lore.
We could get into the symbolism of the names of the characters and the Tethered, the props and costumes, the recreation of particular events from modern American history, the weapons utilised against the Tethered, the Snow White allegory…but we want to get to sleep tonight. Expect to see a few hundred videos and blogposts picking them apart.
This is a wonderfully crafted movie with plenty to talk about. The second act gets some clumsy padding and the ending is bound to be divisive, but we’re going to see it again.
Rating: EIGHT out of TEN