Us tells the story of The Wilson’s, an American family whose peaceful existence is shattered when they are introduced to identical shadow versions of themselves. The doppelgängers wreak havoc on The Wilson’s quiet, ordinary lives and inflict unspeakable terror.
The film is dripping with atmosphere. It boasts a haunting score featuring (among other things) eerie choir music and nearly every scene demonstrates expertly crafted ambiance. Director Jordan Peele gives us the sensation that something eerie and unnatural is lurking around every corner. He demonstrates near perfect insight regarding how to shoot and edit a film. Peele amps up the tension with perfectly placed jump cuts to rattle the viewer. In one memorable scene, early in the flick, he opts to show one of the antagonists only in shadow form, menacingly carrying a pair of scissors. In another instance, the director shows only the lower body of one of the perpetrators. Such an approach is infinitely more terrifying than actually putting everything out there for the audience to see.
On a related note: Like a lot of great horror films, much of the violence is more implied than explicitly shown. Sound effects and a bit of blood spatter convince the audience they’ve seen much more carnage than they actually have. I’m all for a good gore fest. But, sometimes less is more and this is definitely one of those times.
In addition to directing, Jordan Peele also penned the film’s screenplay. He has delivered an utterly terrifying and original concept. Sure, the film borrows, here and there, from some of its predecessors but the core concept is largely fresh and original. It’s also one that gets under your skin. Just the thought of being confronted with an exact replica of yourself hell bent on doing you harm is mortifying.
As scary as it is, the film isn’t without moments of levity, which isn’t surprising, considering Peele’s origins as a comedian. Winston Duke (Black Panther) provides well-timed comic relief as the patriarch of the Wilson family. His dad jokes and one-liners are groan-worthy but also endear you to him and lighten the mood. He is also quite adept in his turn as his alternate self. However, it’s not just Duke’s performance that is noteworthy. Everyone in the film is outstanding. Especially when stopping to consider that each core cast member is playing two versions of the same character. The cast convincingly conveys utter terror in a way that is not entirely common in horror films. When they first meet their doppelgängers, they don’t just look like they are acting scared. They look like they are actually scared for their lives. Lupita Nyong’o (Little Monsters 2019) is equally compelling as matriarch Adelaide Wilson and her evil counterpart, Red. Evan Alex and Shahadi Wright Joseph both turn in winning performances as the Wilson children and their alternates.
If I had to take a stab at the film’s subtext, it seems to be saying something about the duality of human nature: There is good and evil that exists within all of us. Everyone has the potential to do good and everyone has the potential to do great harm. Both extremes are on display throughout the picture.
I’ve heard mixed reactions to the film’s twist. I was pleasantly surprised by it. I expected something similar to the actual twist to happen, but it, nonetheless, wasn’t exactly what I was expecting and it managed to catch me slightly off guard. I liked that it left me with a sense of ambiguity.
The film’s home video release includes a bevy of extras. Standout features include featurettes describing the challenges of shooting the majority of scenes twice and a spotlight on Jordan Peele as a horror director. Also included are deleted scenes, and a number of other featurettes.
Us will be available on Blu-ray June 18, 2019. If you haven’t yet seen it, you need to. The film cements Jordan Peele’s reputation as a commanding force in the horror genre and a force to be reckoned with.
Wicked Rating: 8.5/10
Director(s): Jordan Peele
Writer(s): Jordan Peele
Starring: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Shahadi Wright Joseph, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II
Studio/Production Co: Universal Pictures
Run Time: 1h 56min