Where do I even begin? There are a lot of great horror movies that have been announced for 2019 that I have been supremely excited for, but admittedly, my most anticipated movie of this year was Jordan Peele’s Us. With the astounding (and much-deserved success) of Get Out in 2017, I was eager to see what Peele would bring to the table for his sophomore directorial effort, and with Us, he does not disappoint. A densely packed thriller that wastes no time establishing the unsettling events that Peele unleashes here, purposefully utilizing every single frame of film (I know Us wasn’t technically shot on film, but you get what I mean), each cinematic bread crumb that Peele drops for viewers early on perfectly leads towards the film’s stunning finale that will undoubtedly leave horror fans with tons of material to discuss and ponder for years to come.
But make no mistake—as far as truly great genre storytelling goes, Peele has quickly established himself as one of the most thoughtful and exciting talents behind the camera, and Us is beyond anything that I could have possibly anticipated from the Oscar-winning filmmaker. You couldn’t ask for a bigger departure after Get Out than you get with Us, and I think that’s why I enjoyed it as much as I did. Peele takes some wildly evocative swings with his latest, and I would not want it any other way. “Go big or go home,” as the popular saying goes, and Us goes big in some very unexpected ways.
Us kicks off in the year 1986, as we’re introduced to a young Adelaide (played in flashbacks by Madison Curry, with Lupita Nyong’o portraying the character in present day) who gets separated from her parents on a beach-side boardwalk one fateful night, and ends up getting lost inside a maze of mirrors, which traumatizes the young girl for decades to come. We then catch up with Adelaide in present day as she sets out for a vacation to her family’s summer home, with husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and her kids Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex) in tow. Once they arrive, Adelaide can’t quite shake the feeling that “something” isn’t right, with her worst fears coming true when a mysterious family dressed in red jumpsuits that happen to bear more than a striking resemblance to her own brood appears late at night, unleashing a vicious and startling attack in which both families face off against each other. And to say anything beyond that would be grossly unfair, as that’s when Peele takes Us in some truly surprising directions, and I would not want to deprive anyone of experiencing the film’s wonderfully maddening journey.
Beyond Peele’s high-concept story, Us works so incredibly well because of its cast, with Nyong’o firmly establishing herself as one of the most versatile actresses of her (or any) generation. You would think after winning an Oscar that we would have seen the actress being flooded with offers to headline a film, but for some reason, it took a few years for the industry to catch up with her talents, and with both Us and Little Monsters (which premiered at Sundance and also played at SXSW), Nyong’o shows her incredible range, especially considering that in this film she is tasked with taking on two separate roles, both equally fascinating and wholly unforgettable.
The same goes for the rest of the Wilson family—Duke, who most folks will recognize from his scene-stealing work in Black Panther, is an absolute delight in Us, carrying most of the film’s comedic moments, and I just fell in love with his character Gabe, a father and husband who just wants to give his family the perfect summer vacation, but also is engaged in some friendly competition with his longtime pal (played by Tim Heidecker) who also has a summer home in the Santa Cruz area that he shares with his wife (the brilliant Elisabeth Moss) and twin teenage daughters (Cali and Noelle Sheldon), showing us glimpses of the pressures Gabe feels to do right by his wife and kids. And speaking of kids, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention both Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex here, as the up-and-coming stars truly enjoy their respective breakout moments in Us, and hold their own alongside their older cast members. While Duke, Wright Joseph, and Alex are all tasked with playing dual roles as well, I must admit that the younger doppelgänger characters are hella fun, and they really amp up Us’ creepy factor to an 11.
With shades of The Twilight Zone, early David Cronenberg, and a hint of Through the Looking-Glass coursing through its veins, Us is primed to be one of the most unusual studio horror movies to get released in some time, and I can’t help but applaud Peele for delivering something so uniquely challenging as his follow-up to Get Out. Because of all the different genre elements at play in Us, some folks might find the narrative changes to be a bit dizzying, but for me, everything culminates beautifully in Peele’s jaw-dropping finale. I love that in a situation where he could have played it safe after Get Out, and gone with a more traditional genre story, Peele does anything but that, with Us firmly cementing him as truly one of the most boldly innovative filmmakers working in horror today, and I look forward to seeing this a few more times to unlock more of the mysteries peppered throughout the movie’s narrative.
Movie Score: 5/5
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