After the success of Get Out, the pundits began speculating if we had the next M. Night Shyamalan on our hands. Less in a, law of diminishing returns way, and more a, new modern horror and thriller innovator way. Thankfully, it is the latter as Jordan Peele guides Us (eh?) through his twisted and authentic analysis on modern American society.
On a summer holiday with her family, Adelaide (Nyong’o) returns to a place that is associated with trauma to her. One night, replicas of the family appear in the driveway, and clad in red jumpsuits, begin terrorising the family. This doesn’t give anything away as this is what the trailer sells. Much like Peele’s previous film, all is not as it seems.
Comparisons between Get Out and Us will automatically be inherent, and they are valid. Themes of oppression and analysis of class systems are prevalent; blending of science fiction and the supernatural; sinister elements hidden beneath the surface; and home invasion style narratives. However, where Get Out is more mainstream and accessible, Us is more of a passion project that oozes symbolism and screams to be read in multiple ways.
The stand out is Lupita Nyong’o, who delivers a great double act as the protective, yet shaken and confronted Adelaide and as the raspy, animalistic and chilling Red. Through physical mannerisms, Nyong’o connects the two but makes them distinct enough that they feel like two separate entities that demand so much from an actress.
Peele’s directing is nothing to frown at either, further cementing his place in the pantheon of horror filmmakers. Lingering shots confront the audience with the horror, smooth tracking shots guide them through the chaos, and all accompanied by Michael Ables skin-crawling, operatic score. It is far more tense than Peele’s previous work, that lingers in your mind days afterward. Peele’s writing on the other hand is not as air tight.
In trying to explain the inevitable twist of the ‘monster’, Peele gives away too much that in answering one big question, creates 5 smaller, more irritating questions. Certain narrative clichés occur with no solid explanation for their existing. However, the solution to the modern “the phones are down” cliché is subtle and a stroke of logical genius.
By layering the film with symbolism, Peele makes a film that film students will analyse and write papers on, while alienating a more general audience. In this case, Us is more enjoyable than Get Out, in the discussions and the thoughts it provokes; about class system, oppression, repression of fears and personal demons, and conflict with the Other.
Us is a tense, terrifying, and literal us versus them narrative that is visually and spin-tinglingly enticing. With a stellar central performance and unique directing choices, Us breaks the sophomore curse and lets Peele make a statement; about himself and today.