I must admit I missed Get Out when it was in cinemas, horror really isn’t a genre I follow too closely so it completely passed me by. By the time I got around to watching it, I had already been surprised by a few horror films and was astonished by its depth and social commentary, it was the very opposite of the ‘dumb horror’ films I found myself rolling my eyes at whenever I watched one.
Given Get Out’s massive media profile and acclaim, Jordan Peele’s next project was always going to be one to watch, he had proven himself an original thinker in the horror stakes, but could he follow it up with a film that can match his first success?
A young woman traumatised by a life event in her childhood goes on vacation with her family to the same beach resort where the traumatic event took place, the family then find themselves being hunted down by mysterious doppelgangers.
The above synopsis doesn’t do the plot a whole lot of justice I must admit, but it is the best I can describe Us without getting too spoiler-y, and ruining the films more interesting facets. It really is a film you should know as little as possible about going into it.
There’s a unique sense of dread that hangs over Us right from the first frame, layers of atmosphere become apparent right from the word go, as Peele sets out a world for his audience to become immersed in.
There’s a lot of social commentary here too, a lot of which went over my head, being British the heavy commentary on American life doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, but that didn’t take too much away from my enjoyment of the film, at a base level it’s still a straightforward us vs monsters horror set-up, it’s only when you want to look deeper that you see the context, and while that does add a little bit of spice to proceedings, you don’t feel as though you need a primer before you watch the film.
I think Peele shows an incredible know-how for constructing certain scenes and shots so early into his career, it’s more evident here, as each scene has a certain artistic flourish, as if painted by Leonardo Da Vinci, with the title sequence being especially memorable and surprisingly unsettling.
He also has a sophisticated grip on the horror genre that many people spend years learning. It is far better spending time building tension and unrest in the viewer than it is startling them with a jump-scare, and Peele knows this, the jumps are almost nonexistent, instead there’s a feeling of creeping dread that hangs over the film, like a cloud you suspect might be bringing rain.
There’s an emphasis on characterisation too, getting people to care about people in a horror film is no easy task, most horror films I watch have such vapid characters that it’s usually a relief when Jason Voorhies introduces their skull to a machete with great force.
A strong cast also holds up Us, with Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o leads the cast with an astonishing dual part, as both traumatised mother Adelaide and her doppelgänger, this is probably the best Nyong’o has been since 12 Years a Slave, which is quite an accomplishment for an actress of her ability. Supporting her is Winston Duke, who plays Gabe, the patriarch of the central family around which the plot revolves, who film fans may know as M’Baku from the MCU, he’s affable and likeable in this film, I can’t help but see a more substantial dramatic performance in his future though. There are also some very impressive performances from the film’s child actors (Shahadi Wright Joseph as Zora and Evan Alex as Jason, the children of Gabe and Adelaide).
All of these actors balance two distinct characters effortlessly, which is no mean feat for any actor, never mind a child. So on the performance side, the film is pretty flawless.
Just like in Get Out however, Peele lures you into feeling connected with these characters, and then plays with your expectations towards the third act, there are many twists and turns to this tale.
The risk is there for the film to twist and turn once too often, however, it nimbly, yet narrowly, avoids this hazard, dropping the curtain on the narrative just as it was starting to run out of ideas, it’s final twist may seem like an overstretch to some, but it took me completely by surprise and is making me rethink the film all over again after seeing it.
As for the important question of ‘is it scary?’ The answer is a tough one. I’ve said in the past that I don’t really get scared by films, they startle if a hated jump-scare is involved, but never enough to really make me scared, and while I wasn’t scared of Us, I was intrigued and immersed enough in the world to not need to be scared, its narrative was interesting enough without the fear factor, I had the all-important sense of dread and tension, but not the fright.
Overall then, a deep, tense experience sums up Jordan Peele’s sophomore film. An interesting narrative, interwoven with unnerving characters and just enough twists to make the narrative seem fresh, all with a healthy garnish of a tense atmosphere make up a terrific experience, I’d say an improvement over Get Out, even. Jordan Peele here proves that lightening can indeed strike twice,