“Us” Movie Review


     Writer / Director Jordan Peele’s “Us” leaves behind the overt sociopolitical satire of his debut feature, “Get Out”, and instead treats the audience to one of the most original movie ideas I’ve seen in quite some time.  And that’s saying something, considering the filmmaker has once again set his story within the cliche ridden horror genre.  This is truly one of the first horror films in the last ten years where it would be difficult to pinpoint a classic film’s influence.  In other words, Peele has turned the genre upside down and created a haunting new vision without lifting scenes from “Halloween”, “Psycho”, or “The Exorcist”.  If anything, Peele seems to appreciate the art of the Shyamalan style twist, given the wallop of a third act this film is armed with.

     “Us” is framed by a sequence in which a young girl, while celebrating her birthday at a beachside amusement park, ventures off alone and curiously enters a house of mirrors attraction that appears closed and vacant.  Inside, the darkness combined with the mirrored walls camouflages a way out of the maze, until she suddenly comes face to face with something that truly horrifies her.  When the story shifts into the future, that young girl is now grown up, but the scars of that night remain.  Her name is Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) and she, along with her family, husband Gabe (Winston Duke), daughter Zora (Shadadi Wright Joseph), and son Jason (Evan Alex), are on their way to the family’s summer home for a vacation.

     Gabe may not be fully aware of the impactful incident that occurred to his wife as a child, something that at this point the audience is not fully aware of either, but nonetheless suggests the family venture to the same Santa Cruz beach where it happened for a day of sun and social time with another couple.  Peele takes his time building tension by using the motherly instincts of Adelaide and her over supervision of Zora and Jason as if she is constantly in fear of something happening to them as well.  An incident where Jason simply goes to use the bathroom and can’t be found for a few minutes leads to an excruciating moment of terror and potential loss for Adelaide as her assumption always leans towards the worst possible outcome.

     That night, as the family is getting ready for bed, and Adelaide is suggesting they conclude the vacation and leave in the morning, four strangers are spotted standing at the foot of their driveway.  The ominous silhouettes are faceless from a far, but appear to stand at the height of a common family with a man, a woman, and two children.  And when Gabe confronts them but receives no reply or reaction to his demand they leave their property, he suggests calling the police who are some 14 minutes away.  Which given the situation, leaves them to fend for themselves when suddenly, the four strangers systematically invade the residence by force, only to overpower the entire Wilson family and convene them in the living room where the identities of the these four people are revealed.

     Going into “Us”, you are no doubt aware the intruders are doppelgängers of the entire Wilson family, but what they want is still very much a mystery.  As you would expect, Gabe, Adelaide, and their game children don’t simply lie down and succumb to the nefarious wishes of their guests.  Peele stages a series of showdowns between each character and their respective twin, who seem to be slightly stronger and faster where it counts, meaning their defeat proves difficult.  But these Wilson’s are smart, particularly Adelaide, who soon finds out there is something much bigger going on when their neighbors are suddenly attacked by doppelgängers of their own.

     Peele and his collaborators use a combination of music and sound to create an intense environment that seemingly never lets up once things begin to move.  And it is these elements which allow for a number of scares and jumps throughout, but what really shines through as the most exceptional part of all of this is Peele’s script which keeps you on guard and guessing all the way to the very last shot.  What he’s done here is play the role of puppet master to the audience in a way that very few have in cinematic history.  It’s as if he’s leading you somewhere, only to turn that theory directly on its head and leave you wondering where all of this could possibly go, until something else is revealed and you realize it was in front of you all along.  I do; however, think Peele could’ve done without the use of a certain NWA song at a crucial part of the film.  Its inclusion has nothing to do with the story and in my eyes was simply in bad taste.

     During the film’s press tour, Peele was quoted as saying several times when addressing the meaning of “Us” that it intends to convey the fact we are often our worst enemies.  Of course without exploring the third act, it’s impossible to really delve into the meaning of the story, but my takeaways would certainly include a statement about oppression and the fact there are people living among us who are human too, but aren’t privileged with the same opportunities in life.  I have to figure that’s ultimately where Peele was going, but even without some underlying subtextual thought on class, he has still managed to tell a thought provoking story, while creating a sort of event status for likely every film he makes in the next decade.  GRADE: B+