Us review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Jordan Peele’s Us is the kind of horror that is so lovely subtle, beautiful, and thematically dense that you just wanna race back for a second viewing. Peele’s previous picture Get Out was such a smash-hit of horror with great social commentary and satire amid its wild premise fit for the Twilight Zone. And he thankfully proves here that he’s not just a one-note director but a multifaceted one as well, weaving a brilliantly layered film that touches on so much while still being a rip-roaring romp of a slasher picture.
Lupita Nyong'o shines particularly bright in the role of Adelaide Wilson, a woman with a frightening past. As a child, she walked alone along Santa Cruz beach and stumbled into a dark hall of mirrors, encountering a doppelganger of herself. The experience left her traumatized but she grew up and became stable enough to have a loving family. Her husband, Gabe (Winston Duke), is a fun guy who, despite his many dad jokes and dad-isms, has managed to push aside Adelaide’s dread at least temporarily. Her children (Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex) are also great sources of love while still being odd and quirky people still defining themselves.
But Adelaide still has the nightmares of her past and it’s coming back to haunt her when the family wants to take a trip close to Santa Cruz. She masks her terror but there’s still an unshakable sense of anxiety on this family vacation. And it turns out she’s right to be scared when some strange people show up at their vacation home. Seen in the darkness and shadows at first, the killers soon break in and reveal themselves to be twisted versions of Adelaide’s family, dressed in red and wielding scissors as their weapons. Who are they? The red-dressed Adelaide duplicate offers one answer: Americans.
From that line of dialogue, one might deduce that Us is an allegory all about nationalism, especially with the constant red, a wall of people tethered together, and the undercurrent of lower class rising up again the more fortunate. But the film never makes it message all that clear, keeping the true meaning hidden behind the gorgeous cinematography, fast pacing, and twisted kills. Peele doesn’t make his film an easily-digestible follow-up by staging the presence of the bitter white couple played by Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker as secretly sinister forces. More evident throughout the picture, and the mantra of the story, is that sometimes the most terrifying monster is indeed ourselves, playing greatly into Peele’s thematic trademark of his films being about the mutation and loss of identity.
Another mark Peele makes in this film is how well he can shoot scenes. Nobody could forget that moment of the Sunken Place reveal from Get Out, where Daniel Kaluuya’s character goes wide-eyed with bloodshot optics and tears rolling. Lupita Nyong'o has a similar shot in this picture as well but her performance is something else entirely. She’s expected to not only play Adelaide and her double but also different versions of each hidden behind by shocking secrets with chilling reveals. And let’s not forget Peele’s ease of humor, able to maintain a consistent tone of silly commentary with the family, even when the blood starts spilling.
One could try to compare Us to the likes of other horror greats, even noting the vast similarities to the works of Stanley Kubrick and Brian De Palma, but I believe Peele’s mastery of the genre goes beyond that of such comparisons. He’s using familiar trademarks but also fashioning new and unique ones that will define him as a compellingly original director. Consider how two of the most notable recurring elements of Us are the presence of rabbits and the bible passage of Jerimiah 11:11. Peele’s script never outright explains the bunnies or the passage, leaving the film open for theories on the same level of The Shining. What an inspiring and intricate horror that will no doubt lead to more challenging productions from both Peele and those amazed by this film.