A family takes a trip to their vacation home to unwind. An impromptu trip to Santa Cruz forces the mother to remember childhood trauma. Unfortunately, that trauma follows the family home when they are visited by a deadly family of doppelgängers. Outside their door, people everywhere are being attacked by people who look just like them. The family will have to face off against their look-a-likes in order to survive.
This is only the second feature film written and directed by Jordan Peele, but with this film he has solidified his status as a master of horror. After the success of the Oscar-winning hit, Get Out, Peele decided to go in a different direction with Us. In this film, every American has a doppelgänger who lives underground. These people decided it’s their time to live in the sun and venture out to kill their topside look-a-likes. When the doppelgängers come for the Wilson family, the audience sees something a bit different. The danger is even more grave, and the doppelgängers are absolutely terrifying. The entire premise is disturbing and has edge-of-your-seat tension from start to finish. Peele perfectly breaks up some of that tension with hilariously timed humor. It gives the audience a small bit of relief in the most intense moments without fully taking them out of the moment.
On the surface the film is a thrillingly murderous ride, but upon deeper inspection there is also an interesting social message. Peele is known for including racial issues in Get Out. Now, with Us, Peele explores issues of socioeconomic classes. He includes many different layers to convey this message, some being more obvious than others. The social message combined with subtle clues and Easter eggs throughout the film have come to be a signature of Peele’s filmmaking style. It gives Us a sense of longevity; the more you think about it, the more everything makes sense and the more you watch the film the more details you notice that you may have missed before. Many of these smaller details offer clues for the audience that reveal the various twists and turns the plot takes. If you pay close enough attention to these clues you might be able to figure out certain aspects of the film before they’re revealed. The only potential downside to Peele’s filmmaking style is that certain aspects of the plot may require a bit of research after watching the film in order to make sense of it. More dedicated cinephiles won’t mind this, as they likely do it anyways, but the more casual movie-goers could see this is an annoyance.
The single most compelling aspect of Us is the array of fantastic performances from every single actor. These performances are all the more amazing because almost everyone plays two characters. The shining star of the film is Lupita Nyong’o (Black Panther, 12 Years a Slave) as both Adelaide and her look-a-like Red. Nyong’o’s portrayal of both characters is truly spectacular. Adelaide is a very cautious person after her childhood trauma, and it is that mentality that makes her more prepared for the danger coming for her family. Red is also different from the other doppelgängers and that difference is almost immediately noticeable. The intensity behind Nyong’o’s portrayal of Red is absolutely haunting. Her performance as both characters is so perfect it’s difficult to pick which portrayal I enjoy more. The rest of the Wilson family is also made of of great performances. Winston Duke (Black Panther, Person of Interest) plays Gabe and Abraham, Shahadi Wright Joseph (Hairspray Live!) plays Zora and Umbrae, and Evan Alex (Mani) plays Jason and Pluto. All of them do a stunning job of clearly portraying two different characters that are connected, yet one is much more primal and animalistic than the other.
There are many great stylistic choices made throughout the film. The first one audiences will likely notice is the use of music. Peele tends to use music throughout the film to inject humor into various parts of the film. The songs used are already iconic and well known, but the way he uses them will stand out in the audiences’ minds even after the film ends. The costumes and hair also add an interesting visual element to the film. Specifically, the doppelgängers all have an iconic outfit they all wear that makes them stand out. They even all have a signature weapon in the form of large golden scissors. The doppelgängers all have an unkept look to them. Their hair is messy or greasy, their skin is ashen and pale, they have dark circles under their eyes. The overall look helps to reinforce the mythology behind these characters created by Peele.
Us stabs through the supposed “sophomore slump,” allowing Peele to give audiences a bloody and tension filled film with an underlying social message. In all honesty, this is a very difficult film to review without getting into layers and layers of spoilers. If you pay attention to the cleverly hidden clues, then the film will not only make more sense, but it will also allow the audience to figure things out before they happen. After watching the film, I highly recommend reading through the numerous articles that dissect these clues, then see the film again and again. This is a film that will definitely improve with each watch because of those small details. Combine that with the absolutely perfect performances and the result is an award-worthy film that proves Peele is a talented filmmaker. I can’t wait to see what he does next.
OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10*
*Clarification of my score: Based on the review I gave the film, my number rating may seem low. This is the rating I would give the film based on my initial reaction leaving the theater. I took a few days to think about the film and research a few things before writing this review, so even now I would rate the film higher than my initial reaction. As I said before, this is a film that gets better over time and with more viewings.