After his monumentally successful directorial debut Get Out in 2017, Jordan Peele soon announced his next movie, Us. Naturally, the bar was set high – Peele won the Academy Award for best Original Screenplay for Get Out – and it’s probably fair to say that his sophmore effort didn’t quite get the same attention as his debut.
Us begins with a somewhat confusing foreword about thousands of unused underground tunnels under America, and then a scene in which a young girl watches a news report about Hands Across America.
This opening scene, set roughly 30 years before the events of the film, lays the groundwork for one of the richest, most imaginative horror stories in a long while. It’s not easy to explain exactly how intelligent Peele’s approach to the narrative is without spoiling multiple aspects of the movie, but if you’ve seen it, you’ll understand.
Once we reach the present day, we’re introduced to that same girl, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), now an adult with a family of her own: husband Gabe Wilson (Winston Duke), daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph), and son Jason (Evan Alex). They arrive at their lake house/summer home, and head to the beach to spend some time with their friends, the Tylers (Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss).
Come nightfall, though, the arrival of the Wilson family’s unhinged doppelgängers puts the events of the film into motion, and these doppelgängers – or Tethered, as they call themselves – are hell-bent on killing the Wilsons.
There’s so much to love about Us. It’s horror done right; scary but original, with tension so thick that you simply can’t take your eyes off the screen, but underneath, there’s a rich vein of mystery – who are the Tethered, and what do they want?
Peele’s writing is masterful, but an equal share of the credit lies with the film’s stars. Every performance is emotional and believable, but doubly so when you consider that each actor also played their own Tethered. Nyong’o in particular is mesmerising; one half of her performance is the stoic survivor Adelaide, and the other is the raspy, almost robotically manic Red.
The movie’s scarier moments are offset by occasional flashes of unexpected comedy – something which, if done improperly, could have derailed the whole movie. Luckily, these moments are executed as deliberately and convincingly as everything else in Us, and they only serve to make each of the characters feel more real and more fleshed out.
One other thing that stood out especially was the movie’s soundtrack. With a handful of familiar songs used to great effect, there’s also a beautifully unsettling dramatic score by Michael Abels, who had previously scored Get Out.
While a few plot elements from this film might have been borrowed or recycled from other stories, Peele has so convincingly crafted this deeply interesting and unsettling narrative that I simply didn’t care where any of it had come from. The result was entertaining from start to finish, with enough third act development to warrant multiple repeat viewings, and Us is a movie that belongs firmly in our Hall of Fame.
Summary: Horror at its finest. Peele is truly one of the most talented filmmakers around, and Nyong’o’s performance was especially eye-catching.