In 2017 Jordan Peele, an actor known primarily for his goofy, over-the-top characters on comedy show, Key & Peele, shocked the world with his directorial debut, Get Out. The deeply allegorical horror flick, replete with lashings of social commentary and wit, was an assured and confident effort showcasing a genuine and abiding love of genre cinema. It was also an enormous hit, pretty much guaranteeing Peele’s second film would be much anticipated and extensively scrutinised. Well, Peele’s sophomore effort, Us, is here and… wow, this film is a lot. Like, a whole lot, hey.
In its set up, Us seems, at first at least, to be a pretty traditional horror flick. Our hero family are the Wilsons, comprising mum, dad, daughter and son, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), Gabriel (Winston Duke), Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex). The Wilsons are heading to their family holiday house in Santa Cruz, where they intend to chill on the beach, relax a little and hang out with their vaguely awful friends, Kitty (Elisabeth Moss) and Josh (Tim Heidecker). It should be a relaxing time but Adelaide, haunted by strange, half-remembered events from her childhood, has a feeling something bad is about to happen. And then, one late night, a family appears at the end of their driveway and everything goes to hell.
Get Out, for all its layers of subtext, was at its core a very simple film. It was a genre flick about race and class inequality, a ’70s throwback that the Honest Trailers crew hilariously (and accurately) dubbed “The Stepford Whites”. Us defies such easy definition, which causes the film to linger long in your memory but offers less immediate satisfaction. You may have gathered from the trailers that this is a movie about “scary doppelgangers”, which is not inaccurate as such, however it’s barely a fraction of the story and honestly we’d rather not spoil anything further.
Suffice to say, Us is an extraordinary film that is buoyed further by extraordinary performances. Lupita Nyong’o, pulling double duty like most of the cast, offers two utterly transformative characterisations. Remember last year when the right-thinking parts of the world (excluding the Academy and their tedious genre snobbery) were blown away by Toni Collette’s performance in Hereditary? This year, it’s Lupita’s turn because she is deadset electrifying. The rest of the cast do well too, with Shahadi Wright Joseph giving a particularly chilling turn and Elisabeth Moss moving outside of her various comfort zones.
Ultimately though, Us is a director’s film and Peele’s confident, textured style carries this movie through some of its more flummoxing moments. And make no mistake, this gets weird, offering staggering, M. Night Shyamalan-esque twists and reveals with occasionally dizzying disregard for audience comfort. Us goes big and it’s not afraid to leave you behind when it does so, bursting at the seams with more ideas than it can deal with completely satisfactorily. And yet, it’s because of this surplus of big concepts that makes Us so unforgettable, the kind of film where the audience surges into the foyer afterwards exchanging thoughts and theories with a kind of giddy, excited confusion; like they’re trying to parse meaning from a particularly vivid dream.
Us is probably not going to be for everyone and it’s not really trying to be. Frequently tense, often funny, occasionally profoundly bizarre and ultimately a bit mystifying, it’s a truly original genre film that is unafraid to embrace big ideas and epic weirdness. If that sounds like your jam, you should run, not walk, to this jaw dropping flick. Be warned, though, this is the kind of film that could leave you feeling extremely… untethered.