Get Out was one of the hottest movies of 2017 from both a critical and commercial standpoint. But as with every successful freshman effort, there’s a question looming overhead. Can they do it again? With Us, Jordan Peele proves that he is, without question, one of the most talented directors and creative writers working in Hollywood today. Us is everything you hoped, and everything you were afraid, it would be.
Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) and her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) have brought their two children Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex) on vacation to the Santa Cruz mountains. Against the wishes of Adelaide, the family takes a day trip down the famous Santa Cruz Boardwalk to visit with friends (Elizabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker). Adelaide experienced a traumatic event on the same boardwalk as a child, and still hasn’t quite come to terms with it. However, she’s forced to deal with her past that night when a family of four, dark and twisted versions of Adelaide’s own family appear at the end of the driveway with clearly murderous intentions.
That’s the synopsis that you can more or less get from the trailers for Us, and it would be essentially impossible to go any further into the story without delving into spoilers, and this is certainly a movie you don’t want to have spoiled. Needless to say, it goes places.
While many people seemed hesitant to attach the “horror” name to Jordan Peele’s previous cinematic effort, there’s really no way to confuse Us for anything else. From the moment four people surround the house and attempt to break in while a family cowers together in fear inside, it’s clear what sort of movie you’re getting here. While there is certainly a lot going on in Us, it is first and foremost a horror movie.
The entire cast of Us deserves credit, but the main family unit and their turns as their own monstrous doubles deserve special recognition. While they might look similar, there’s no mistaking these characters for each other. Each actor instills their dark opposite with a unique personality that makes them interesting while at the same time being utterly horrifying. Zora is your typical teen, which means she thinks her family is lame and she’s never happy spending time with them. Her opposite has a smile permanently chiseled on her face that is made of pure madness.
In the end, however, this is Lupita Nyong’o’s movie, and there simply isn’t enough that can be said about her performance here. As Adelaide she is fierce and focused. When the shit hits the fan she becomes as much an action hero as a horror victim. As her doppelganger, she is absolutely terrifying. She moves with a supernatural smoothness that will make your skin crawl more than anything else you’ll see on screen.
And as a horror movie, Us works near perfectly. From the moment the tension starts, it rarely breaks, even for a moment. The story moves at a breakneck pace. The characters don’t have much time to take a breath, so why should you? Everything else about Peele’s script is just as tight. Character’s decisions, even when they put themselves in greater danger, all make sense,(even if they don’t necessarily make sense at the time).
If there’s a fault in the script, and I’m not sure there is, it’s that I figured out where the movie was ultimately going a long time before it got there. Specifically, before the end of the first act. The thing is, I’m not entirely sure that this was due to any weakness in the script. Because the simple fact is that knowing how the movie ends doesn’t actually impact the film at all. It doesn’t change the story in any meaningful way, if anything it only reinforces what the movie is trying to say.
Most of what Us has to say is pretty obvious based on a surface level reading. While most horror movies that pit normal people against seemingly supernatural forces make the villain something clearly “other,” in Us, the thing to be afraid of is just that, us. Once again, as in Get Out, Jordan Peele finds the greatest way to scare the hell out of you is to make you take a good hard look at yourself.
Having said that, there’s a lot about Us which is a lot less obvious on a single viewing. The movie tries to dump a lot of exposition on you near the end, which is seemingly designed to fill in the parts of the story we don’t understand to that point. On the one hand, it feel unnecessary. I’m not sure we needed everything explained. Sometimes “because horror movie” really is enough. On the other hand, it makes you want to turn around and watch it again in order to completely wrap your head around it all.
I’m going to need some time and distance before I know for sure which of Jordan Peele’s films is my personal favorite, but I find them both to be masterpieces. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go tear down every mirror in my house.