Us review still Lupita Nyong'o

Year: 2019
Director(s): Jordan Peele
Writer(s): Jordan Peele
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Rating: R
Digital, Color, 116 mins

Synopsis: A family’s serenity turns to chaos when a group of doppelgängers begins to terrorize them. (Source)

With Us, Jordan Peele has solidified himself as one of our generation’s most important directors. Just as in his debut, Peele has again used the horror genre to dissect social subtext in ways that are almost unbearable. Whereas Get Out summed up the entirety of Black American experience, his latest is a harrowing portrait of America itself. It’s broader while still keeping to a uniquely personal perspective, operating within accessible vernacular as it illuminates subconscious anxieties and fears. This latest snapshot of the zeitgeist is a damning but necessary one. It’s difficult to watch at times, but amounts to a knockout effort, blending humor and tension with incendiary purpose.

Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) and her family seem like the ideal, middle-class American family. They’ve just arrived at a cozy summer beach house, but something feels off. At the insistence of her husband, Gabe (Winston Duke), Adelaide and family are to meet some neighbors at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. This is where Adelaide’s unsaid fears begin to unravel. The local landmark turns out to be tied to one of Adelaide’s secret childhood traumas. Despite some hesitance, they make it to the beach, but what they come home to is truly shocking. Later that night, a family of deranged doppelgangers break into their home, wanting something very specific. Who they are, and what their true nature entails will force Adelaide and family to not only fight for their lives, but reevaluate everything they thought they knew about the world they live in. 

At its best and most inescapable, horror is a manifestation of what we can’t say or easily express. It speaks to us on a subconscious level, and that’s what makes Peele’s latest so great. Peele knows the genre in and out. He understands that real scares aren’t sudden noises or cheap gags. What really scares us is the subtext behind each nerve-jangling scream or tear of human flesh. To that end, absolutely nothing is wasted here. As soon as we’re integrated into Adelaide’s family, Peele violently tears them apart, dissecting them through bloodthirsty copies of themselves. More than most films of this type, Peele goes to great lengths to separate what’s happening above and below the surface. Because of this, the film operates efficiently in more ways than one. Anyone is walking into this for pure horror escapism will get it, but not in the ways they’d expect. As tension mounts on two opposing sides, it’s the story’s visceral, emotional that really guts us.

Us review Lupita Nyong'o

With everyone pulling multiple roles, the ensemble is literally killer. Embodying the most pure form of the story’s ideas, Lupita Nyong’o makes a lot of the film palatable. She’s both its scariest and most relatable aspects, crafting two characters who are disparate yet claiming a central core. Winston Duke continues to prove how charismatic he is as Gabe, giving the film a few of its comedic moments without betraying the seriousness of what’s at hand. As Zora and Jason respectively, Shahadi Wright and Evan Alex also add a lot of character. Their prime and mirrored roles are night and day, with Alex portraying a unique bond to his copy that grows more substantial as the film progresses. All in all, each performance is diverse and vast, providing interlocking pieces to a very complex puzzle. 

Us is already iconic, and a landmark achievement in terms of what it says and how it says it. This is the right movie at the right time. It toys with iconography that feels ripped from news headlines, delivering a home invasion thriller that explores duality, identity, social strata and bloody revolution. The images in here are bound to get etched into cinematic consciousness, and I’m really curious to see how it holds up in the years to come. As is, it’s already a horrifying examination America’s tumultuous present. I’m writing this review after just one viewing, but I can already confidently say that one viewing isn’t enough. This is an experience that hypnotizes on a deeper level, creating a bond with the viewer that’s going to be near-impossible to break.