How does writer-director Jordan Peele top Get Out, his stunning debut on racism and gentrification? Us is the mostly satisfying, if slightly infuriatingly metaphorical answer. Opening in the 80s, young Adelaide (Madison Curry), on vacation with her parents in Santacruz, drifts off at the fun fair on the beach to wander off into a funhouse. Years later, now grown into the lithely gorgeous Lupita Nyong’o, she still gets the heebie-jeebies recalling her time in the house of mirrors. Now married to Gabriel “Gabe” Wilson (a superb Winston Duke) with two children—the roll-her-eyes at-whatever Zora and the forever inquisitive and at the receiving end of her stares and disdain Jason (Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex, both very good)—she’s forced by Gabe to spend vacay time at their lake house in Santacruz. Something still creeps her out, but overruled by her better half, they set off to join their ultrarich friends Josh and Kitty Tyler (Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss) at the beach resort. So far so good.
Peele’s set you up nice and proper with family banter, some chilling past references, and then moves in for the kill, Hitchcock-style. Act two of Us is absolute, unadulterated terror, shot with shiver-me-timber élan by cinematographer Mike Gioulakis, more Hitchcockian suspense as the family’s pitted with another who’s standing at the driveway. The lighting, shot cuts and pans, and the unsettling score by Michael Abels (elsewhere he adds mind-bending Afro-chorals, drum beats, and shaky cowbells) add to your popcorn tub’s tremors, and in all probability, you’ll be watching this segment wide-eyed and breathless. It’s also where a bit of the plot line is explained by one of the characters, and it’s also the weakest part in the movie. You almost feel disappointed about why all of them—and us—have gathered around. That feeling passes soon enough as the dread ratchets up and Us crosses into horror county and continues into dystopian territory at the end.
Lupita Nyong’o is marvellous, her act scuttling between the terrified to the haunted, a see-saw performance that grips you all through. But it is director Peele’s motifs and layer of motivations that are bloody meat for thought. In this doppelgänger sawbones nail-biter, he questions all of us; the ones who’ve had the privilege of education, of a loving family, of being pampered, of having loving relations, healthy children, well-paying jobs, and with it rights and amenities that we take for granted. While we’re indulging in our life’s lottery of bounties, we’d do well to pause and look at those who could have been us, and us them. How would we have coped? Then there’s Peele’s look at the duality within each of us. Under most circumstances most of us traverse the path of grey. But when forced into a corner, which of our side comes to the fore naturally? That answer could be very, very unsettling. And that’s the biggest horror that Peele throws at us: the person looking back at you in the mirror could be a complete stranger.
Us is is rated A (Restricted to adults). Violence, dread, and horrifying introspection.
Director Jordan Peele Time 1h 56min
Writer Jordan Peele
Stars Lupita Nyong’o, Duke Winston, Elisabeth Moss
Genres Horror, Mystery, Thriller