Jordan Peele’s overnight launch into genre infamy is no fluke, readers. With Get Out, he proved horror could sting social relevance, redefine terror and entertain something fierce. His participation in Horror Noire: A History Of Black Horror then amplified the filmmaker’s wealth of rich screamer knowledge. Key & Peele’s Gremlins 2: The New Batch sketch? Only someone who basks under the midnight moonlight would come up with such niche hilarity. Why is all this important? Simple – Get Out is no random success story, and if you haven’t paid attention to the above examples, his newest home infestation nightmare Us is the golden ticket that proves it.
Gabe (Winston Duke) and Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) retreat to their lakeside vacation residence for another family getaway. Daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) spends hours texting away, and son Jason (Evan Alex) tests his magic tricks. After a day of soaking in Santa Cruz’s rays, the Wilson family retreats home to recharge, and that’s when madness takes hold. “There’s a family in our driveway,” Jason utters. Not just any family, though. Standing outside are red jumpsuit wearing doppelgängers who break down the Wilson’s door and threaten their lives. That’s just step one.
Most notably, Peele directs the ever-loving hell out of each horrific setup, as his eye for housebound invasion tension is nothing short of diabolical. Undefined figures holding hands, standing atop a dark driveway create this nightmarish portrait that only darkens as the second set of Wilsons attack. Danger is palpable, Peele’s camera finds only the slickest and meanest framing, and attackers are presented as nerve-shredding identity thieves through both violence and confession. Us makes monsters out of everyday people, repurposing human unpredictability for an ultimate terror-fueled breakdown of safety that’s still so enigmatic as Duke, Nyong’o, and the entire cast face their mirror-image demons.
Us features no shortage of narrative ambition, which is both for the better and worse. Peel’s incorporation of Hands Across America, evil clone origins, boardwalk maze attractions and underground tunnel systems expands “simple” window-lurker horrors into an allegory for classism and not wasting privilege. Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss star as the Wilsons’ rosé-drinking, Alexa-knockoff conversing upper-class sloths who coast through life abusing substances without second thoughts – don’t you dare think Peele’s done with social satire. What Us represents is always about massive divides between lifestyles, arrogant disenfranchisement and what it’d look like if “just desserts” were doled out, but it’s the sufficiently murky universe establishment at times that mishandles lax exposition.
Although, who cares about that when you’ve got a cast featuring Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke?
Mark my words: Nyong’o is 2019’s “Honor horror at the Oscars you cowards” example for her work in Us. She’s this year’s “Toni Collette deserves an Oscar nomination for Hereditary.” Plus, those of you who fell in love with Winston Duke after Black Panther will *eat up* “Daddy Duke.”
Performances across the board in Us are no joke – I would have *loved* more of Heidecker and Moss in their briefer roles – as despicable scissor-slicing soaks rugs in bloody messes to the background tune of NWA’s “Fuck The Police” (more horror films should use N.W.A). For as patient and precise as Peele’s direction of chaotic abandon allows, performances are endlessly entertaining. Laughs abound while anarchistic stalk-and-slice threats fray sanity.
MORE FROM THE WEB
Actors are given the opportunity to play not only their goody-family versions, but the unhinged bottom-world alternates who appear unannounced. Nyong’o a raspy ex-dancer who’s brandishing of cutters is advanced level creepy, while Duke is this brutish gorilla of an aggressor (his boat, Craw Daddy, sets wet-and-devastating standoff perfection) and Shahadi Wright Joseph’s a maybe-one-day Olympic track star. Then there’s Evan Alex as the monkey-masked wild child whose sicker half features a scarred deformity. Their normal forms are reserved, bottled and in Duke’s case so incredibly “Lame Awesome Dad,” but their flipsides – masterful. Lacking explanation? A tad, but my lord is it destructive character work.
Us is an impressive and astonishingly hair-triggered sophomore feature squarely positioned to decimate genre audiences. It’s purposefully vague, but jam-packed with more memorable genre imagery and inquisitive discussion starters than most braindead by-the-book cinematic offerings beholden to formulaic blueprints. Jordan Peele lives, breaths and fingers the healthily beating pulse of modern horror, given how even his “unfocused” and “unwieldy” is still leaps and bounds more efficient than directors who’ve been haunting dreams for decades. Us proves this. It’s a volatile, vicious and boldly expressive horror film of the loudest decibel. My how we’re lucky to have someone as talented as Mr. Peele making genre movies in this year of our Lord Paimon, 2019.
Us is a volatile, vicious, and boldly expressive horror movie of the loudest volume, proving Jordan Peele to be one of the most invigorating filmmakers in today's genre scene.