Review: Us (2019)


See what I see? : Monkeypaw Productions/Dentsu

Well that’s 2 for 2 for Jordan Peele. He’s become a vibrant, distinctive and essential American filmmaking voice in what seems like no time at all, and while US can be compared to GET OUT on certain thematic levels, it’s entirely its own thing.

While on family vacation in Santa Cruz, Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) starts getting flashbacks to childhood trauma, a trauma that comes to terrifying life when sinister doubles of every member of her family invade their home…

The key question you’ve got to ask of a horror film is always, is it scary? For Us, that’s an emphatic yes. There are images in this film that’ll creep back up on you just as you fall asleep, even if you didn’t realise it at the time. There’s a great build of tension as well, released at intervals not usually with jump-scares but with genuinely disturbing imagery and bursts of violent action.

Being a Peele film Us is a thematically rich and layered stew. There are so many ways you could interpret the story, the symbolism, the characters and their copies. I see the meat of the piece as a commentary on incarceration; the voiceless and broken imprisoned settling a score with the privileged free. I was thinking more of Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13TH than any straight horror film. It’s no accident that we follow an African American, Middle-Class nuclear family as their lives could have diverged at so many points to result in less enviable circumstances.

Lupita Nyong’o works herself to the bone in this. A tangle of neuroses still recovering from trauma decades on, Adelaide is simultaneously her family’s strongest and weakest member. Removing someone’s eyebrows is an easy shortcut to making them look uncanny, but that’s just surface level. Combined with her rigidly controlled yet feral physicality and cracked voice, Nyong’o’s doppelgänger character is left the complete antithesis of our lead. Every actor playing one of the Wilsons had to bring to life two entirely different characters and they all serve their own important role in the story. Thank goodness Winston Duke brought the levity as bumbling well-meaning husband Gabe or it might have all been a little monotonous.

We’ve seen the evil twin/dark mirror image trope in horror films many a time before but never executed in quite this way. The final confrontation between Adelaide and her double is more like a deadly dance than a fight to the death, and all the more memorable for it. I’m struggling to think of another case where we’re asked to sympathise in any way with antagonists like these, where they’re ultimately presented as tragic and understandably flawed as well as terrifying.

Peele asks us to look a little closer at everything, to take nothing at face value as he flips our sympathies and understanding all the way around time after time. Us would definitely stand up to multiple watches, because there are clues to the myriad twists and turns peppered throughout if you’re looking out for them, not to mention the potential to completely change your perspective on events.

Again, like Get Out, Us works far better before everything is explained. There’s a great tension build and ideas galore punctuated by splatter violence, but then Peele attempts to provide an unnecessary pseudo-scientific explanation for the central premise. These concepts are far scarier if left as vague as possible.

Us will stay with you, its meaning and implications for not only the film world created but our own real screwed-up planet stubbornly refusing to sit neatly in a space in your mind. Peele has unleashed another gut-punch-as-entertainment that begs to be talked about. You’ll never be able to listen to “I got 5 on it” or go on a beach holiday without looking over your shoulder ever again. SSP


About Sam Sewell-Peterson

Writer and film fanatic fond of black comedies, sci-fi, animation and films about dysfunctional families.
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