Movie review: Us

Jordan Peele’s second film puts a psychological twist on home invasion

Us (My)
Directed by Jordan Peele
With Lupita Nyong'o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker

Horror has a new master. Jordan Peele, who got his start in sketch comedy, has delivered his second contemplative horror film, Us, and it is deeply disturbing. It lacks the obvious political undertones of his previous hit, Get Out, but still has a psychological message.

A middle-class family goes on vacation to Santa Cruz, despite the mother, Adelaide (played by Lupita Nyong'o), having some reservations related to an incident from her childhood. A short time later, at the summer house, a nearly identical family turns up in their front yard, refusing to move. The intruders look exactly like them, but are nearly silent and behave like feral animals. They wear red jumpsuits and carry scissors.

The film starts with Adelaide’s childhood trauma, something that happened long ago in an amusement park late at night. Peele depicts the amusement park as a creepy, rundown place. It sets the tone for what will follow.

But once the seeds are planted, Peele gives them time to grow. Skipping ahead to the present, the film takes time to establish the two parents and their two kids. The father Gabriel Wilson (Winston Duke), is the most enthusiastic about the vacation. He even buys a boat that barely works, becoming the butt of his family’s jokes. The two kids, Zora and Jason (Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex), are a bit at odds with each other.

Jason is rather shy and tends to hide behind a Halloween mask even though it is summer.

The Wilsons are friends with another couple and their two twin daughters, the Tylers. All together, it is a picture of middle class life of some average families.

Us presents and original premise, based on the fear of the doppleganger, the idea that somewhere there is a duplicate version of you. The film goes far beyond the long-lost evil twin scenario to present something much more vast— though the ultimate explanations leave quite a few questions.

There are also hints of zombie films, with the doubles being slow and silent, but they are not the risen undead. At its core, though, Us is a home invasion film where the invaders are some evil and twisted form of the residents.

Peele also wrote the script, and despite the dark themes there are spots of humor. The setup, before the home invasion, has a few charming family moments. And later, as things get desperate, there is some fun with a voice-controlled computerized home assistant that fails to grasp what is going on.

Lupita Nyong'o has the most difficult role, as she plays both Adelaide and her double, called Red. While the other doubles are mostly silent, Red gives a terrifying speech that helps to bring some sense to what is going on. Nyong'o creates two radically different characters, often in the same scene with herself.

Peele, as a director, relies more on the psychological terror of the idea of being trapped with yourself than on the currently common horror tricks of slamming doors, loud crescendos of music and people popping up suddenly into the camera’s view.

While on a smaller scale, the film harks back the Stanly Kubrick’s The Shining, where the terror slowly grows inside an isolated space.

That is not to say the film is free of bloodshed and gore. The violence level slowly progresses as the families and there doubles become more entrenched in the fight.

Many directors after their surprise first hit stumble badly with their follow up, especially if they are also the writer and producer, and given a much bigger budget. Peele’s second film is in some ways not as good as his first, but is is significantly more polished, and still efficient in reaching its goals.

Lupita Nyong'o, who has appeared in Star Wars films and Marvel’s Black Panther, also emerges from Us as talented star capable of headlining a film.

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