Us is Jordan Peele’s truly scary, more-than horror, state-of-the-nation follow-up to his acclaimed Get Out.
Us Means USby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
The hype is genuine. Us is truly scary – right from the start. It shocks you with sudden thumps, bumps and crashes and lulls you into a false sense of security with tension-relieving deadpan laughs before the next surprise hits you.
Us starts in 1986, when a little girl (Madison Curry) wanders into a hall of mirrors in the funfair on the boardwalk of the Santa Cruz beach. The attraction is called Vision Quest: Find Yourself (a Native American coming-of-age ritual). A traumatic experience ensues.
In the present day, Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o, Twelve Years a Slave), now an adult, reluctantly returns to Santa Cruz with her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and two children for a normal family holiday, staying in her parents’ old home. Without warning, a family of mother, father and two children, looking just like them and all dressed in red overalls, appears in their driveway and refuses to go away.
The less you know before seeing Us the better, so no spoilers here. Horror buffs will recognise horror tropes, but Us sometimes subverts them or transforms them into something more than the genre.
The film takes off like a graphically violent home invasion movie, a bit like Funny Games, as the family of doppelgängers who have suddenly appeared, and are armed with giant scissors, demand their rights – “We’re Americans”.
Fighting violence with violence, Adelaide takes the lead against these murderous versions of herself and her family and uses the only weapon she has – a poker. Daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and son Jason (Evan Alex) discover uses for a golf club and a stone ornament. Inept Gabe provides the comic responses. But Us goes way beyond that.
There are great performances all round, particularly from Nyong’o as the central character the plot hangs on, and all her screen family – Nyong’o and Duke together again after Black Panther. Of the Wilson’s better-off white friends, the Tyler family, with whom they have a rivalry, and who are also holidaying nearby, Elisabeth Moss has a scene-stealing moment with lipstick. There are moments when a virtual assistant eavesdrops, picks up words and plays tracks – the Beachboys and NWA – in a setting that makes them unforgettably hilarious and horrific. Throughout, director Jordan Peele’s camera draws us in with its stylish fluidity. It glides through the most horrific shots and it focuses on the theme of duality everywhere – faces reflected in mirrors, in glass surfaces, twins, doubles….
Us is a full-on horror film that – unusually for the genre – puts a black family at its heart. There are nods to the 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Thriller, which also reflected the preoccupations of their eras, and, more recently, Sorry To Bother You. Us, too, is a giant film metaphor for its times that develops Peele’s themes from his acclaimed horror satire on racism Get Out. It rumbles with implicit comment on the state of the nation (Hands Across America, the many underground tunnels with no known purpose), on America’s attitudes towards its African American citizens, through the legacy of slavery – “We’re human too” – and its cruelly ignored underclass. Us is us.
Us is released on 22 March 2019 in the UK.