Director: Jordan Peele
Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) suffers an unexplained traumatic event during her childhood, and lives to have a loving husband and two children before she revisits the boardwalk in Santa Cruz which it occurred. After this, a serious of events terrorise her and her family as they attempt to endure the chaos.
Writer/Director Jordan Peele was primarily known for his comedy with Keegan-Michael Key before 2017’s explosive horror/thriller Get Out, and with the newfound critical acclaim he looks to follow up with another terrifying piece, this years Us.
Us hits you with somewhat of a signature that Peele seems to excel, opening with a scene set before the time which the film takes place. A young girl and her dysfunctional parents at Santa Cruz pier. During their time, something happens to the girl and we cut to modern day. That isn’t me being ambiguous for the sake of ambiguity, we aren’t shown anything, and our first mystery is set. In the same way Get Out is a innocent character finding their way through a sprawling mix of mysteries, Us has a Adelaide, her husband Gabe (Winston Duke), and their children Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex) trying to understanding the events unfolding in front of them.
Explaining the journey they travel would be to spoil much of the brilliance of the film, Peele really shines in the way he unravels the story for the audience and the characters, even the more brutal sequences are superbly elegant. There’s very few times we really experience the exposition, it flows organically from scene to scene with very few instances of feeling like we’re being told what’s happened and happening, instead we’re shown very succinctly. One of the biggest successes of Get Out was it’s commentary on modern race issues, something many would go into Us curious if the same level of nuance and pertinence had been achieved. Boldly, Peele opted for a more subtle articulation of his message, likely about class divides, and whereas the former would leave us discussing how he represented his themes this instead has us dissecting the many elements that make central issue of class divide. It is far more metaphorical and is provided in a far more divisive way; there are two sides to the argument here, and there could be genuine debates on whether this conflict is justified or not.
On a more technical level, Peele’s improvement as a director is significant as well. Something as simple as a young girl walking on a boardwalk alone is tense, the sound design and cinematography working smoothly to really keep you on the edge of your seat. That isn’t to say this is the most chilling aspect of the film however, his previous foray may have been suspenseful, but Us reaches genuine terror that most modern horrors rarely reach. Sequences reminiscent of the iconic sequence in Alien (1979) of Ripley walking down the hallway in an unbroken shot, as well as many instances of controlled chaos really showing how one can set the bar for films within a genre. This does make the brief moments of cliché that bit bitter however, there isn’t much need for the jump scares as Peele shows how to create genuine anxiety and dread in far more intelligent and tactful ways. Taking this a step further, it’s very impressive how he takes elements of previous films we have come to know inside and out, and completely flips them to re-envision something many could find tiresome. Home invasions, for example, have been worn out by films such as the The Purge (2013) relying too heavily on cliché to been nearly as inventive as Us, which really rethinks how these situations can be presented.
As much praise as the film deserves, there are a few points that feel out of place. The aforementioned jump scares feel out of place, and as much as Peele excels at presented information without force feeding exposition there is a later sequenced explaining much of why the events so far have occurred. Although necessary, his previous work in Get Out with a dialogue-less bidding war and accompanying sequence achieve the same without one character monologuing on another. This doesn’t fully detract from the piece however, as the scene is still tense, but it leaves it feeling like he could achieve something a bit more special, but more than anything it’s a personal nitpick. A white knuckle experience, Peele really brings a new and fresh take on a genre that relies too heavily on clichés nowadays and shows that you can still be visionary in modern film – again.