Fans of Jordan Peele’s incomparable societal critique “Get Out” can rejoice as the horror-auteur swings for the fences in his newest horror-thriller Us, and for the most part, hits it straight out of the park. Piggybacking off of the inquisitive, yet cynical, tone of his directorial debut, Us follows the Wilson family as they attempt to blow off some steam with a family road trip following the death of the children’s grandmother.
Heading this family is the ideally cast Winston Duke (“Black Panther”) as the father Gabriel, who not only handles a great deal of the films comedic relief but serves as the most easily relatable protagonist of the film considering the quirks of the rest of the family. Next to him is the timid, yet strict wife and mother Adelaide (Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”). Adelaide acts as the driving force for the film’s supernatural arc, introduced to viewers when she is a child who experiences a traumatic event that has lasting effects even relatively far into her motherhood. Her children, Zora and Jason (Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex, respectively), are accustomed to their mother’s outbursts and tenderness, but still question the validity of her concerns.
The first act of Us portrays a thoroughly heartwarming introduction to this modern family, each character of course dons some of not only the horror genre’s typical character tropes but of family films in general such as the daughter being a bit of a smart-ass and the son being labeled “weird” just because he likes to make sandcastles and play hide and seek. Peele offers a decent dose of nuance to the audience, however, most emphatically in the interactions between Adelaide and her son Jason. The two seem to have a lot of the same isolating tendencies along with feelings of being misjudged. Even rolling over into the second act, Peele’s pacing is exacting as we’re given time to feel like a member of this family. This fun and relaxed immersion can easily cause one to forget it’s a horror film they’re watching . . .
But of course this is a misdirection by Peele, who gathers the audience’s comfort and curiosity before laying down a heavy dose of surrealism and twists that would make even “The Twilight Zone” a bit jealous. I use this reference not only because it is a show that Peele is currently resurrecting, but also because it’s what he has labeled an inspiration for the film’s narrative (I’ll let you all discover what episode on your own). Soon a quartet of people who look a lot like the Wilsons invade the home throwing the proceedings into abject tumult. It’s also around the end of this second act, the audience learns of the potential depth of the film’s plot and that there are in fact grander implications than the film’s jokes, jump scares and general creepiness would suggest.
Rather than spoon feed the audience the message like his previous film, in the last act he gives the audience a little more wiggle room to discern and unravel the societal perspective themselves. Beyond the dopplegangers and the apparent chaos they’ve unleashed on the family, lie concerns about introspection and social turmoil, the liabilities of human processing, and the overall lack of reflection and sensitivity in modern culture. Upon reflection, these communal breakdowns are nearly as horrific as the goings-ons at the Wilson’s lake house.
With Us, Jordan Peele has refreshingly delivered not only a bonafide frightener, but also a movie that presses his audience to dig deeper to not only dissect the many layers of a torn societal structure but also the many layers of ourselves. And though Us doesn’t quite reach the heights attained by “Get Out,” its message certainly does and it’s one that may stick around for a much longer time.