Jordan Peele’s Us is a horror flick through and through mixed with underlying social commentary and layers of meaning that audiences can lengthily unpack after watching.
The film follows Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) and her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) as they set out on a vacation to Santa Cruz, California, with their two kids, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex). The vacation not only sparks Adelaide’s memories of mysterious childhood trauma but introduces a threat to the Wilsons — scissors-wielding murderous doppelgängers called The Tethered.
Peele had his work cut out for himself after the mass success of his Academy Award-winning Get Out. Though both films have a distinct cinematic style, comparing them is nearly impossible. Where Get Out analyzes racial tensions in society, Us explores America as a whole and what exactly it means to be American. Similarly, Get Out’s underlying themes were very apparent, whereas viewers could walk out of Us and not necessarily catch the messages right away but enjoy the film for its horror aspects.
Peele uses the 1986 movement Hands Across America to divulge into its almost too optimistic idea of solidarity. As the film title plays into the theme of solidarity, it provokes the idea of an “us vs. them” mentality with The Tethered.
Reeling back, the complexity of the film wouldn’t have been possible without knockout performances from the actors. With all lead actors portraying their identical doppelgängers as well, there’s an added element to the film. It’s no easy feat playing multiple characters on the screen at the same time, but the actors tackled it head-on.
Though all the performances outdid themselves, Nyong’o’s portrayal of both Adelaide and the identical Red was bone-chilling in the best way possible. From her dramatic change in voice between characters, her methodical and slow moving actions as Red to simply her maternal worry as a mother protecting her kids, the actress knocked it out of the park.
What makes Us so special is that it’s a horror film viewers can genuinely laugh at. With most of the comedic elements centered around husband Gabe, Peele has master a way of bringing comedy into horror without being tacky or even campy. In fact, the humor acts as a bit of comic relief for what is definitely a suspense-filled film. It was also great to see Duke, who’s known for playing Black Panther’s M’Baku, in a more light-hearted, comedic role.
Peele set out to make a film that was precisely horror, and he succeeded on multiple levels. Us not only has viewers afraid of scissors, mirrored fun houses and underground tunnels, but also has them examining the nature of society and the divides between the “us” that makes up America. It’s an impressive follow-up to what’s a near-perfect directorial debut, and if the comedian-turned-director keeps the streak going, audiences will sure to be debating their favorite Peele films in the next decade or so.