Jordan Peele’s follow up to his critically acclaimed post-race horror debut Get Out is an equally chilling, thought-provoking, and metaphor laden doppelgänger horror mystery about the failure of the American dream. Starring Lupita Nyong’o, Elisabeth Moss and Winston Duke, Us might lack the element of surprise and the coherence of its predecessor, but still manages to hit all the right notes when it needs to, further cementing Peele’s status as a brilliant innovator.
The film starts in the mid 80s with a young Adelaide Wilson (Madison Curry) who is seen enjoying an evening out with her bickering parents along the Santa Cruz boardwalk. After wandering off while her dad is elsewhere occupied, the young girl finds herself on the beach where she inadvertently enters a seemingly innocuous house of mirrors where she witnesses something no child of her age should ever have to.
Fast forward to the present day and Adelaide (Nyong’o) is all grown up, married to Gabe (Duke) and has two children of her own, the bright and sporty Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and the slightly less well-adjusted Jason (Evan Alex). Things take a nightmarish turn when the family returns to Santa Cruz for their summer holidays, where their friends (an insufferable yuppie couple played by Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker) have also spent most of their summers for the last few years. After a stressful day at the beach, the family is terrified to find some mysterious figures standing outside their house who refuse to leave when asked to. To their shock the figures turn out to be perfect copies of each family member, who seem to want to replace them.
Peele presents a heavily coded narrative which manages to successfully blend horror and comedy to offer a truly unique experience. The director offers a fair bit of foreshadowing which doesn’t always come to fruition in this flawed, yet hugely engaging story about American identity. And whilst the allegories here appear to be far less accessible than in Get Out, they still remain hugely enjoyable to unpack.
There are shades of 50s Twilight Zone, which is hardly surprising seeing as Peele is currently working on a reboot of the series for Netflix, but for the most part, Us is also Peele dealing with his own success and the fear of not being able to replicate what he did with his first film. Elsewhere, in scenes where the family speaks of wanting to flee to Mexico to get away from their nightmare, there are definite hints at the way America is turning against its own people. Us is also about middle class African-Americans finding it hard to fit in within the constraint of racial stereotypes. We see this mostly when the usually prim and proper Duke feels the need to espouse a ghetto accent in the hope of scaring his tormentors away.
N’yongo, who is almost in every present day scene, is utterly mesmerizing throughout. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that she carries the film from start to finish, making you wonder what kind of film this would have been without her in it.
On the whole, Us may not provide the “kick in the gut” one might have expected from Peele, but then again very few debut features in the last decade have been as good as Get Out. A thrilling, complicated and brilliantly well-acted sophomore offering from a director who is at the top of his game right now.