Director: Jordan Peele
Writer: Jordan Peele
Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Rated R | Minutes: 116
Release Date: March 20, 2019
The phrase “we are our own worst enemy” is a theme that plays a huge part in Jordan Peele‘s Us. The filmmaker’s sophomore effort walks that fine line between horror and social satire. It examines the human condition and uses scares as a vehicle to take a look at the monsters that lurk beneath our skin and what would happen if it were ever to crawl out of it. The end result is another genre-bending film with something to say. While allegories and metaphors have been a part of the fabric of horror films, Peele knows how to deliver that message with terrifying precision. Check out my full review of Us here below.
Us opens with a caption about the historic interconnective tunnels that run through the confidential United States. As the haunting music stirs up a cold feeling of dread, it soon becomes clear that the tunnels Peele is speaking about will have a dual purpose. One is quite literal and the other as a metaphor. And much like his directorial debut, Get Out, Us reminds us about how horror films can be used as an allegory to exploit the current state of which we live in now.
The film quietly uses a traumatizing event as a set up for audiences to get to know Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), wife to Gabe (Winston Duke) and mother to Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex). It’s your typical loving middle-class family, with everyone playing the parts and relying on old and familiar tropes. Gabe is like a sitcom dad throwing out the occasional corny jokes, Zora is the typical teenager who would rather be on her cell phone, and Jason is the fun prankster. And then there’s Adelaide, who is reluctant to return to the Santa Cruz summer home because of a previous trauma.
Although Adelaide manages to adjust to the situation, there are clues peppered throughout the first act that indicate an unknown threat is about to surface. And after spending some time with friends at the beach, the family calls it a night. That is until, the power just so happens to go out, and they find a group of four trespassing on their property.
Unresponsive to threats of any kind by Gabe, the mysterious group of strangers suddenly makes their move. Scared, Adelaide and her family are unable to prevent them from breaking in. When they finally do, they reveal themselves to be doppelgängers called Tethers.
Us is a film that needs to be experienced with your own eyes. It’s an even better experience if you haven’t watched any of the trailers. Of course, if you have, they don’t spoil too much. They merely scratched the surface and have plenty of twists and turns to keep audiences fully engaged. While the film does tread some familiar ground by following the same footsteps as some of the great suspenseful horror filmmakers that came before it, Peele adds enough of his own personal touches to make something truly incredible.
Peele displays an incredible amount of restraint and uses that to control the pacing of the film. It makes use of every single tension-filled moment to build to something momentous or a very well-earned scare. The camera movement allows us to experience the character’s fears firsthand as we see Adelaide and her family tremble at the sight of their doubles trying to kill them. And that is amplified with the deliberately slow pacing that creates an unnerving sense of uneasiness.
Again, nothing goes to waste in this film and everything in it serves some sort of purpose. Peele weaves an intricate story with subtle nuances and horror elements. He builds upon that with the simple use of shadows of the family walking on the Santa Cruz beach, reflections in the mirror or on a glass surface, unexplainable coincidences, jinxes, and palindromic numbers in the form of biblical verses. Peele uses all of these to create the world that these characters live in. A world that is divided by two sides of the same coin.
The dichotomy of these contrasting characters is fleshed out in the terrific performances from the cast. Nyong’o turns in one of the best performances of the year. Adelaide is a loving mother who is devoted to protecting the family that she holds dear. That resolve is put to the test when the Tethers appear. Seeing that her family is clearly in danger, Adelaide goes through great lengths to protect them. Though bright and strong, there are times were she reveals herself to be vulnerable. But that isn’t a sign of weakness or fragility, but rather, just how layered her character is. And there is even more to Nyong’o’s wheezy doppelganger than the chilling and downright frightening vibe she gives off. She has just many shades as Adelaide, which only add to the character’s complexity and depth.
This ability to play two contrasting characters so brilliantly shows the level of talent that Nyong’o has. In fact, it’s frightening to see her play opposite herself. It’s almost hard to believe that that is Nyong’o. And yet, it is. She is able to hold our attention throughout the entire film. And what’s all the more frightening is that both characters have us in their grasp, and they don’t let go.
And it’s not enough that we get these stellar performances in the film that peel back all of its layers, but Peele also leaves these clues to solve the larger mystery and speak to the idea of duality.
And while this is Nyong’o’s film, the supporting cast really helps her out. Duke is hilarious as Gabe, the everyman’s dad who thinks he’s funny by throwing out corny jokes. Of course these jokes are well placed so as not to become too much of distraction. Additionally, the kids are fantastic.
Composer Michael Abels blends his haunting score with familiar tracks to echo those themes about who we are and how we can be our own worst enemy. Some tracks are a bit too oblivious, others are used ironically, and then there are those that have a comedic purpose. And it works.
As great of a film as this is, it manages to establish the rules and inner workings rather swiftly. And though the Us answers a lot of the questions that we may have about the Tethers, I imagine that these answers won’t suffice to some.
That being said, Us is still a great sophomore effort for Peele, who can tell a carefully crafted story with skill and a deft hand. The film may be more of a horror than Get Out, but it’s something that’s cold, calculated, and methodical. It moves with precision and builds upon tension slowly to give us plenty to be scare about and a lot to chew on. And by exploring the human condition and the idea that we can be our own worst enemy with a horror slant not only makes for an enjoyable film, but something that will have everyone talking about what Peele is trying to say to Us.