Therefore this is what the LORD says: ‘I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them.
Jordan Peele’s follow up to the Oscar winning Get Out, Us, plays like a Rubik’s cube of horror tropes. It’s at once a home invasion thriller, and then at the same time it’s a nauseating glimpse into ourselves. Just like a Rubik’s cube, Us is an intricate puzzle that requests that you try solve it and figure out what all the pieces mean, but if you just manage to get at least one line of colour, then you’ll still be satisfied.
The plot is best discovered for yourself, but here’s the basic set up: Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) and Gabe’s (Winston Duke) family head off to Santa Cruz for a holiday. All is good, up until some strangers appear at their vacation house and unleash chaos onto them. It’s best to go in blind with Us, as a lot of the joy it creates comes from the multitude of frights and the endless creepiness it evokes, so with that in mind, head along, go see the film, then come back and give the rest of this (mostly) spoiler free review a read.
Still here? Great.
The film opens in the 1980’s with a young Adelaide (Madison Curry) wandering away from her parents at a fair ground into a hall of mirrors. Here, she sees a reflection of herself that is not quite right. This moment in time leaves Adelaide forever changed, so when adult Adelaide and her family return to that same holiday destination decades later, she is clearly unsettled, knowing that there is something not quite right about the place.
Low and behold, those fears have a firm foundation when they’re proven right as the intruders who come to wreak havoc on Adelaide’s family are doppelgangers. Adorned in crimson jump suits, these off kilter facsimiles of our heroic family are downright creepy. They’re the sort of unsettling that makes your knees get all tingly and wobbly. Lupita Nyong’o’s duplicate feels like she has stepped out of a fresh nightmare into reality, with her wide, unblinking eyes peering directly into your soul, and her raspy, broken vocal cord voice being the sort that will startle you out of your deepest slumber.
Nyong’o isn’t alone in the ‘great acting’ pool, with Winston Duke reminding why he’s one of the best new talents out there. Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex impress as Adelaide and Gabe’s kids, Zora and Jason, with Peele giving them plenty of moments to accentuate just how disturbing and terrifying kids can be. Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker are deliciously upper-middle class white people, and both play up the annoying elements of their caricatures perfectly.
(Curiously, this is the second film in which Elisabeth Moss plays duplicate versions of herself. The other film, The One I Love, is a superb little indie-sci-fi film that I highly recommend checking out, and if you can, give it a look before you watch Us.)
Look, this review is more of a cursory nod to say what everyone else has said, namely, ‘hey, you should really check out Us’. Us is the sort of film that truly thrives in the moment, with tension that ramps up gradually, only to be broken by very welcome comedic beats. Yet, Jordan Peele litters his film with a lore that comes with a deep, deep rabbit hole to dive into. As an atmospheric horror film, it’s searing stuff, but the lore that Peele creates is not enticing enough for me to want to explore further, leaving me to enjoy this purely on a surface level. No doubt there will be countless think pieces about what different elements of the film mean, but for me, I’m happy with having gotten one line of colour on that Rubik’s cube, and will gladly leave the toy on the shelf never to be touched again.
Director: Jordan Peele
Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph
Writer: Jordan Peele