Two years after Jordan Peele surprised everyone with his directorial debut Get Out, the comedian-turned-filmmaker has returned with Us. This follow up film unapologetically dives into the deep end of disturbing and bizarre horror, truly showcasing what Peele has to offer.
While I don’t wish to simply parrot the praise he’s received in other reviews, it’s also hard to ignore just how impressive this change in career has been. While his second film will certainly be more divisive than his first, those who can appreciate the stranger things the film has to offer should find it to be an incredibly engaging and disturbing ordeal.
Under the Surface
Similar to Get Out, Us wastes no time building up a plethora of Easter eggs and foreshadowing before our real story even begins. The atmosphere and tension that is set through the opening scene here is impressive, though some of that can likely be attributed to the fact that anyone who has seen Get Out likely has some idea of what to expect. That’s about where the similarities end, however. In many ways, Us not only feels like an inverse of, but also an answer to the reception of Get Out. While his first film focused around a looming, under the surface threat with a message of social commentary front and center, Us is instead about a visible, in-your-face threat going straight for the jugular, with the message it has not quite as clearly defined. This will surely lead to a multitude of fan theories and interesting takes on what it has to say, but at the base level, the message is clear. It’s just that there’s so much to unpack, both in terms of its narrative and message, that it almost feels unfair to fully judge it after just one viewing.
Meet the Wilsons
After we get past the film’s effective opening sequence, we spend much of the remaining bulk of the runtime with the Wilsons, an unusually well developed and natural feeling family by genre standards. The ways they interact and communicate is both funny and endearing, meaning the tension they experience is all the more brutal when it hits. Of the four actors that comprise the family, Lupita Nyong’o is by far the standout. She brings a level of vulnerability and depth that would be impressive for any lead character, let alone in a horror film. Not only that, but her doppelganger feels like more than just an evil twin; she gives two drastically different performances in one film, and it’s hard to tell which is more impressive. The sheer raw emotion her standard form faces is brilliantly contrasted with the disturbing precision and emotionlessness with which her doppelganger functions. It’s a dazzling experience to watch all four main characters battle against these evil twins that at first seem like manifestations of their flaws and insecurities, especially as the story expands in scale far beyond what it initially appeared to be.
Far From Easy Viewing
As a fairly seasoned veteran of the horror genre, it takes quite a bit to really get under my skin in terms of gore, scares, or other creepy ideas. While Us doesn’t spill gallons of fake blood or crank up the jump moments, it’s an experience that I can best describe as ‘draining’ – in a good way, if that makes sense. Watching these characters that we grow to know and care about go through such a traumatic and seemingly inexplicable experience, combined with how surreal and ultimately nightmarish it becomes in its final act, the whole experience left me exiting the theater knowing it was going to be occupying a space in my mind for a long time to come. I couldn’t be happier to get such a rare, visceral response from a film intended to do just that.
Us is undoubtedly a step up from Get Out in terms of ambition and filmmaking quality. It may not be as wholly satisfying or easily conclusive on a first viewing, but that’s not a bad thing. This is a film that intends to leave you frazzled and somewhat confused, with the experience of theorizing over the film’s meanings and piecing together connections making up half the fun of it. While I may not be ready to label Peele the next Kubrick or Carpenter, I also highly doubt the day will ever come in which I’m not interested to see what he has to offer.
Featured image recieved from artnews.com.