The summary of Jordan Peele’s ‘Us‘ may read like a standard home invasion horror film, but a combination of phenomenal acting, mesmerising camerawork, and an amazing soundtrack to boot, proves that his Academy Award was definitely not a fluke.
Get Out, Peele’s first foray into the film industry, was as big a success as any director or producer could possibly hope for; smashing the box offices, raising conversations about race and social issues, and winning him an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Now Peele is back with the much-anticipated Us, having called it “a horror movie”, and screening it at the South by Southwest Film Festival (SXSW) at Austin, Texas, to much fanfare. Us had a lot to live up to, and we think it was definitely worth the hype!
The plot of Us, without revealing any spoilers, is fairly simple, pretty much familiar horror fare for those versed with the genre: a family vacation to the beach turns into a nightmare when a mysteriously sinister, red-clad group turn up on their doorstep looking, as son Jason whispers fearfully, “like us.”
But here is where Peele adds his own signature twists and flavour as a director and screenwriter: Us is not a mere horror movie, a traditional slasher film or home invasion thriller, or even a psychological thriller and allegory involving monsters and dystopian elements. Just like Get Out, Us is rife with pop culture references and metaphors, and subverts elements of the horror genre while providing social commentary. Us takes the usual tropes from traditional horror films: home invasion, monsters (or zombies, if you may) and the supernatural, before slowly turning the tables on you with each new scene and realisation.
We loved the clever usage of imagery and filming techniques: mirrors and reflections, the striking colour red, masks, twins, the doppelgangers themselves… In more than one scene, characters are shown close-up, or talking – before the camera pans out or they move, and you realise that you were actually watching their reflection instead. It unsettles you, and with the ending of the film, leaves you checking twice in every reflective surface you pass (or was that just us?)
And speaking of unsettling, perhaps the best part of Us, and what haunted us (pun unintended) the most post-film, were the stellar performances by the cast.
As mentioned, the plot centers on the Wilson family vacationing in California: Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), Gabe (Winston Duke) and their two children – sulky teenager Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and anxious, mouthy son Jason (Evan Alex).
Each actor plays themselves as well as their own doppelganger, and the shifts from fright to shock to mania are simultaneously terrifying and impressive. While all of them displayed amazing performances in portraying the duality of their normal selves and their animalistic, murderous doubles, Lupita Nyong’o in particular, deserves praise for her performance as Adelaide/Red. In alternating between the motherly protectiveness and concealed distress of Adelaide, and primal derangement and guttural resentment of Red; it almost seemed as if she had swapped her soul for the other between scenes.
Photo: Universal Pictures
Us also benefits from an amazing soundtrack – you’ll find yourself tapping your feet to Luniz’s “I Got 5 On It” and Janelle Monae’s “I Like That”; and you probably can’t listen to The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” the same way again. True to his comedy roots, Peele also uses NWA’s “F- The Police” for darkly humorous punchline. The film score by Michael Abels is also wonderfully effective; alternating between tense and beautiful, as violent and elegant as the balletic movements of Adelaide and Red’s climactic confrontation in one of the penultimate scenes.
The title of Peele’s latest film is a perfect one, and is a nod to what it examines: our shadow selves, the darker parts of us that live beneath the surface that we bury away in order to live, are not separate entities from ourselves.
At the post-movie Q&A for SXSW, Peele told the audience that, “… when I decided to write this movie, I was stricken with the fact that we are in a time where we fear the other… We’re all about pointing the finger and I wanted to suggest that maybe the monster we really need to look at has our face. Maybe the evil is us.”
And indeed, he is right: going back to what we mentioned before, Us is a horror movie, yet it also defies genres. It is not explicit or grisly, not fitting neatly into any sort of boxes, but is a sort of unnerving, quiet horror that hangs on to you even after you’ve left the cinema.
Us is the kind of movie, we feel, you’d want to watch more than once – to understand and appreciate the themes and acting, how the little clues all add up into the greater picture. Unlike Get Out, the central theme of Us is more open to interpretation, more open-ended. But if not for the masterful piece, then watch Us for the amazing acting, because we think that Lupita Nyong’o might just have a few award nominations in for this one.
Us is showing now in all cinemas.