Us review: Two years after wowing audiences with the fantastic Get Out, Jordan Peele returns with something far more dastardly and sinister.
Now an Academy Award-winning writer, Jordan Peele returns with his second feature film, Us. Starring fellow Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o, Us joins Lupita’s Adelaide in 1986 (played here by Madison Curry) as she and her parents visit Santa Cruz boardwalk. After wandering off she experiences something terrible. The story then jumps forward to the present day where Adelaide now has a family of her own. The quartet is happily enjoying their summer vacation when a group of sinister doppelgängers break into their holiday home and upend reality. Family vacations can be tough, but this one gives the true meaning to the saying, ‘holiday from Hell’.
While many argued that his debut film Get Out wasn’t a horror, the same cannot be said of Us. There are scares galore, and Peele holds the audience in the palm of his hand, expertly wringing suspense. In fact, the opening moments, which are some of the film’s strongest, offer a masterclass in horror. An instant atmosphere of unease is introduced and you’ll find your anxiety levels racing as we witness Adelaide’s childhood trauma. Before we can reach fever pitch however, Peele switches out to something completely different, but that uneasy feeling never quite leaves during the first half. Instead, the audience spends that first part of the movie feeling almost as anxious as Adelaide is about to be visiting the beach from her childhood nightmares. Once the doppelgängers appear, this feeling depletes and the narrative shifts more into the territory of Funny Games, with bloodshed by the bucket-load. One thing’s for sure, you’ll never look at scissors the same way again.
A film about doppelgängers obviously means that our cast has double the work to do. All do commendable turns, with youngsters Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex handling the dark material wonderfully. Winston Duke is brilliant as the family’s patriarch and offers a nice smattering of humour to the film. He’s not quite Get Out‘s TSA Rod Williams fun, but he certainly captures the spirit of a ‘trying too hard to be cool’ dad. Nevertheless, Us is a film built around the performances of Madison Curry and Lupita Nyong’o. Their portrayal of Adelaide is beautiful. Curry manages, in a single look, to capture the essence of pure terror. Nyong’o plays through from victim of crippling anxiety to warrior woman perfectly, while at the same time embodied creepiness personified as Adelaide’s doppelgänger Red. The scenes between Red and Adelaide highlight just why she is the worthy recipient of her Oscar, you almost forget they are not two different actresses.
Peele’s direction is strong and once again, as with Get Out, he manages to inject a nice amount of humour into the horror. A good horror knows how to balance the light and the dark, and Peele offers a great example of this. He also unashamedly wears his film geek heart on his sleeve. As the film opens, we see young Adelaide watching her TV; on the shelf next to the TV are VHS tapes of films including The Goonies and C.H.U.D, soon after there’s a sneaky reference to The Lost Boys (which might go over some people’s heads, but is a lovely touch). Then there’s Adelaide’s son Jason sporting a Jaws T-shirt and wearing a Chewbacca mask. His soundtrack is also on point, you’ll never hear The beach Boys’ ‘Good Vibrations’ the same way again, and get ready to have ‘I Got Five on It’ stuck in your head. It’s the same song featured in the trailer, a rare instance of a trailer song actually being in the movie that it’s marketing, and is far too catchy for anyone’s sanity.
If there are any minor downsides to Us, it’s that the run-time is slightly too long, and it’s not quite as clever as it thinks it is. Neither of these is a deal-breaker though, and Peele offers enough darkness and violence to keep the viewer suitably engaged and entertained. Us is a very different film to Get Out, one that proudly wears its genre heart on its sleeve.
Us review by Kat Hughes, March 2019.
Us is in cinemas now.