Director: Jordan Peele
Writer: Jordan Peele
Starring: Lupita Nyong'o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker
Following the phenomenal success of 2017's Get Out, Jordan Peele delivers an astounding sophomore directorial effort with Us, a frightfully effective and inventive home-invasion horror centred around one African-American family. Following a brief and cryptic flashback to the mid-1980s, we found ourselves nearing the end of a road trip along with the seemingly happy Wilson family, as they approach their holiday home in sunny Santa Cruz. Late one night, however, their relaxing beach house is soon taken over by some bizarre individuals who share the faces of our protagonists, the origin of whom is slowly uncovered.
What soon becomes obvious is that almost everything about this film is odd. Like sitting on a wobbly stool, the audience can never quite relax, with everything seeming ever-so slightly out of place or off balance. This is far from accidental, as Peele's artful direction makes clear. Bizarre camera angles are present in every other scene, sat behind or high above the action, offering some strange and off-putting perspectives. Erratic choirs sing proudly during some scenes, which are later replaced by some truly nerve-shredding high-pitched strings during the more intense scenes. The whole film is designed to make you feel uneasy.
Us is without a doubt an extraordinarily effective horror film, but there is an inescapable sense of security which comes with it. While Get Out evoked a real sense of discomfort and agitation in the viewer, Us doesn't seem to posses the same squirm factor, making it a far more comfortable watch. Instead, Us will scare you in a more traditional sense, with its central home-invasion sequence being a horribly tense and aggressive set piece. Thanks to a surgically precise use of light and dark, a breathtakingly intense score and a quartet of superbly creepy performances (paired with a matching number of terrified ones), this particular scene is one of unbearable tension and, despite being situated in the film's first half, feels utterly climatic.
Somehow though, Us still retains a feeling of safety, as if the film is kept at arms length, allowing us to witness but not to envelop ourselves in the terror. If anything, the home-invasion sequence is over too quickly; other effective home-invasion style horror films are so effective because they are drawn out for so long (i.e The Strangers (2008) or Hush, (2016)). In Us, however, this aspect of the film seems to fly by, with the second half of the film evolving into a very different animal. Almost a tale of two halves, this film's second one feels disparate from its first; a lot of the tension that had been built falls away, and the characters begin a more deliberate hunt for answers following their desperate fight for safety.
Narratively speaking, Us presents the audience with an inventive and compelling story, with just enough flesh on its bones for it to make sense. The film twists its way around the story, bringing together its various facets in an array of intelligent ways, creating a cryptic, enticing and certainly surprising plot. Any gaps it is guilty of having which are easy to accept with some minor suspension of disbelief, and happily leave room for any imagination or interpretation, rather than presenting as major plot holes (an issue that Get Out unfortunately suffered with).
Lupita Nyong'o gives us not one, but two fantastic performances both as Adelaide, mother of the Wilson family, and as Red, her 'tethered' counterpart, cementing her status as a striking and agile lead actress. In fact, there are few characters in this film which do not have a dual role, and each member of the cast is able to provide two performances which are physically and vocally so disparate. Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex both offer superbly creepy performances as the doppelgängers to the Wilson children, Zora and Jason, with the former sporting a horridly unsettling grin throughout, and the latter committing to a incredible physical performance as he scuttles his way around the set. Winston Duke arguably serves as the film's comic relief as the affable husband to Adelaide, with most of the humorous moments being supplied by him. Luckily, none of his lines feel shoehorned in - any humour seems to be built into dialogue organically, preventing it from shattering the tension, instead perhaps lulling the viewer into a false sense of security.
Jordan Peele's second directorial effort confirms his status as a superb creator of horror, with Us being a tightly-wound coil of unbearable suspense. But despite being brilliantly effective and superbly well-made, Us doesn't manage to push any boundaries, nor does it offer the same cultural significance as its predecessor. It's scary, sure, but as horribly unnerving as this film is, it's unlikely to find its way under your skin.
In one line: Us is a brilliantly inventive and stylish horror film which will certainly scare you, but only in ways you have been scared before.