Some would have us believe that writer-director Jordan Peele’s audacious new comedy-horror movie, Us, makes all previous horror films look lame by comparison. Some would also have us believe, just because they keep repeating it, that, after only two movies—Get Out and Us—Peele should immediately be crowned the new Alfred Hitchcock, Rod Serling and Stanley Kubrick rolled into one. Some people are doing no favors to the many gifts of Peele nor the scary, messed up, sometimes brilliant, often frustrating jumble that is Us.
Although Gabe can’t figure out why Adelaide’s resisting—a series of odd coincidences make her want to leave immediately—we’re clued in, thanks to a tingly flashback sequence in which we meet young Adelaide (Madison Curry) in 1986, during the rah-rah, super-white, self-deluded Ronald Reagan era. Left unattended by her father during a beach vacation scars Adelaide for keeps, what with such traumatic events as seeing a homeless man holding a sign reading Jeremiah 11: 11 (God has left us on our own) and a hair-raising and life-changing encounter in a funhouse hall of mirrors. Now Adelaide’s let the unknowing Winston bring her back to that very same beach—and with her kids, yet. What could possibly go wrong?
And that’s the point at which Us becomes a blood-spattered dark night of the soul, during which we meet the scariest, cruelest and most dangerous of monsters: ourselves. That’s hardly an original concept, but Peele digs deep, raising our hackles and delivering thrills without insulting our IQs. Trading on tried and true horror-flick tropes, Peele, cinematographer Mike Gioulakis, composer Michael Abels and editor Nicholas Monsour really let us have it as the Wilson family finds out the hard way that not only is unspeakable violence their only hope of survival, but also that it isn’t only their homes and lives that have been taken over.
How fantastic is it, in our predigested, everything-dumbed-down era, to be able to leave the theater baffled, debating interpretations and occasionally throwing nervous glances over our shoulders.
Us, a movie deliberately showcasing stronger female characters than male, is cast (by Terry Taylor) to perfection. Even with comparatively little screen time, Elisabeth Moss makes her character a model of malice, discontent and vulnerability. She makes a small masterpiece of a funny, unexpectedly heartbreaking scene in which she merely applies lipstick. Both of the kids are strong, and Duke’s breezy, goofball dad disarms the audience from his first scene. But Lupita Nyong’o? Oh, man. She is astonishing, as in almost supernaturally, on-another-planet brilliant. Her stylized movements, mesmerizing stare, the raspy, dead-of-night voice that electrifies scenes are the stuff of sleepless nights. She makes the grisly, hilarious and unnerving movie work.
That horror movies cut deep grooves in Peele’s psyche is obvious. The movie evokes themes and images from, say, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Funny Games, The Birds, The Walking Dead, Night of the Living Dead and The Shining, let alone the “Mirror Image” episode of The Twilight Zone, all of which spring to mind. The American dream is a nightmare, and these days, Peele—a master of dread—may be its most astute and entertaining chronicler.
- Shriek while you think in this potent thriller that features Peele and Nyong’o at the top of their games
- Not everything works, but boy, does it take chances