After the breakout success of 2017’s Get Out, Jordan Peele is back with his sophomore feature film, Us. Lupita Nyong’o plays Adelaide Wilson, who returns to her family’s summer home along with her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and children, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph), and Jason (Evan Alex). Unbeknownst to her family, the nearby beach was the sight of a traumatic experience in Adelaide’s childhood, which makes her increasingly concerned that something bad is about to happen. Her worst fears are soon realised as four masked strangers invade their home, revealing themselves to be doppelgängers of the Wilson family.
While Get Out was billed as a horror, there was definitely some confusion over its genre, with some labelling it a psychological and/or social thriller, while the Golden Globes inexplicably dubbed it a comedy (Jordan Peele’s retort that it’s actually a documentary was deservedly scathing). Us, in contrast, is definitely a more conventional horror than its predecessor, and with this film, Peele gets to embrace the genre he so clearly loves that little bit more.
The film works well to create and build tension from the offset, as we are given a glimpse into the traumatic experience from Adelaide’s childhood. Peele takes his time with this opening, and DP Mike Gioulakis’ cinematography is patient as it stalks a young Adelaide (Madison Curry). Even during the bright, sunny scenes in the Wilsons’ summer home and later, on the beachfront, the direction, cinematography and Lupita Nyong’o’s performance all coordinate brilliantly to slowly build a sense of unease. Adding to this sense of dread is the score (from Michael Abels), which relies heavily on the dread-inspiring “Tethered” remix of Luniz’s “I Got 5 On It”, which is used to great effect. By the time the horror well and truly kicks off with the doppelgängers’ home invasion, Peele has the audience in the palm of his hand, as this is the sequence where the film’s tension reaches its peak. From here on out, the film launches itself into a fight for survival as the Wilson family work to overcome their doppelgängers.
As Adelaide, Lupita Nyong’o is fantastic, conveying unease and paranoia alongside a fierce protectiveness of her family. Conversely, in her doppelgänger role, “Red”, she is sinister and her voice-work shows a dedication to her craft. Winston Duke is hilarious as father, Gabe, dropping the dad jokes without mercy, much to the horror of his children. Speaking of, both Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex are great in their roles, overcoming the pressure put on child actors and coming across as believable, not just in their “primary” roles, but as their doppelgängers. However, it’s these interactions that make the family so relatable and, as a whole, all four actors do some excellent work, arguably carrying the majority of the film. Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker as family friends Kitty and Josh Tyler are entertaining, although perhaps not to the same extent as Lil Rel Howery’s Rod in Get Out. However, they do work well with what they get to work with, and both offer some incredibly disturbing physical moments in their doppelgänger roles.
The concept of the doppelgängers is interesting, and one that I’ve not dealt with in my limited experience of the horror genre. That said, from what I can tell, Peele has successfully tackled the concept in a unique way, challenging a cast that have more than risen to the occasion. There will surely be some detractors who take issue with the unsteady foundation of the film’s lore, but I found that it didn’t actually undermine the narrative. In fact, the film’s gradually revealed lore purposefully avoids answering a lot of questions, adding to the film’s broad thematic scope. The film raises issues of duality, privilege and class, while still leaving these ideas open to each viewer’s own personal subjectivity. Like Get Out before it, and perhaps even more so, this is a film that invites repeat viewings, challenging its audiences to look again and reconsider the film’s twists and turns, both thematic and narrative. Despite the details of the premise being easy to criticise, the ideas and themes of Us only improve, the more they are reflected on.
With his sophomore effort, Jordan Peele has once again knocked it out of the park, thoroughly proving himself as both a writer and director. Although the film will inevitably be compared to its predecessor, which I am guilty of in this very review, it is ultimately a different beast, one that is determined to add itself to the ranks of the horror genre’s best offerings. Before long, it will probably do just that.