“Us” is another masterclass in “social horror”

I’m not a big fan of horror films. In fact, it’s my least favorite genre of movie and I can count on one hand all of the ones that I like.  

It feels like Jordan Peele is determined to get me to change my mind, at least with his horror movies for sure. 

Two years after he stunned us all with Get Out, a brilliantly macabre commentary on cultural appropriation, Peele returns to the cinema with his latest directorial effort, “Us,” which is more than just a cleverly appropriate title for this film. 

The premise of this one is simple on the surface. A family of four goes on vacation and is attacked by a completely identical family of four that is seemingly hellbent on tormenting and killing the original family led by Adelaide, played by Lupita Nyong’o, and her husband Gabe, played by Winston Duke, and supported by the two children Zora, played by Zahadi Wright Joseph, and Jason, played by Evan Alex. As the family struggles to survive the attack, Adelaide comes to discover the truth about who their doppelgängers are and what her connection to them is. 

From the beginning, Peele breaks out his style and knows full well how to build tension, while also tossing in topical and situational humor into the mix. The man just knows how to write and how to film suspense thrillers. Camera movement or in many cases lack thereof, balance angles and a cunning use of sound at times are why he’s seriously becoming one of the best in the business. He gets what makes a strong movie, in a purely subjective sense.  

Lets be clear here though, Nyong’o is the shining star here. We already knew how incredible of an actress she is and paired with Peele behind the camera, she leads this movie with every ounce of talent she has in her. You believe her terror, her anger and her resolve at every turn and she also expertly handles double duty here, not only as Adelaide but also as her unhinged twin, Red. It’s a tour de force of a performance and arguably the strongest element of this movie. 

Her supporting cast is more than solid, with Duke, Wright Joseph and Alex all playing the roles of a family that you’re not screaming at during a horror movie like normal, because THIS family knows exactly what to do, adjusts accordingly and isn’t played for tropes. No, one of the strongest parts of Us is how unconventional it treats the horror genre while still telling a story rooted in basic horror elements. Parts of this movie feel typical, but overall it’s a fresh take on the genre yet again, similar to Get Out. 

The underlying message of Us isn’t as direct and blatant as Get Out, nor should it be as it’s not a sequel and is its own film, but it’s still very much there and builds upon the idea of being one’s worst enemy and dealing with the consequences of handling one’s own shadow, while also questioning which one is the monster, the soul or the shadow? Yeah, there’s some thinking and brain engaging with this one and it’s one of the things I enjoy most about Peele’s work. His stories clearly have a point and are not meant just to scare or thrill people, but to also make them think on a slightly different level about the world and themselves. Indeed, when you probe deeper into the world of the family’s copycats, you see pretty clearly what the underlying message about humanity on the surface really is, and it’s not that positive as you might guess, but it’s also not overly negative either. It’s just “real.” We are who we are as it happens. 

Us isn’t a movie that will resonate with the general audience quite as much as Get Out because it’s a different kind of story and fair or not, people will go into the movie with Get Out level expectations. I would say to anyone that goes to see it, go for the appreciation of Peele’s storytelling mechanics and the acting prowess of Nyong’o and her supporting cast. I highly doubt that you will be disappointed with either by the end of this film.  

US - 4 of 5 stars - In theaters March 22, 2019