A Spoiler-Free Review of ‘Us’
I just saw Jordan Peele’s latest film, Us. For those expecting this follow-up to 2017’s Get Out, you will be quite disappointed. Not that this isn’t a good film, but it is a very different type of movie. Where Get Out was more of a psychological thriller with obvious social commentary, Us is more of a straightforward horror film. Warning! First-Act Spoilers Ahead!
The way this movie starts off is with a pan across a living room where a title card showing a commercial for Hands Across America and lets us know that we are seeing the year 1986. On either side of the TV are VHS boxes with some classic horror films such as A Nightmare on Elm Street and C.H.U.D. among others. After watching Us, I can understand why those specific movies were included and I can see the influence they had on Peele’s decisions with this film. Don’t be concerned if you haven’t seen either of them- it’s not integral. I was merely pointing out where I could see how those films could have played a part in some of the specific aesthetic choices and set designs used by Peele.
We then see the driving force of the film’s plot, a young girl named Adelaide (played exceedingly well by newcomer Madison Curry) at the Santa Cruz boardwalk with her parents. Her father, clearly drunk, is tasked with keeping an eye on her for a moment while her mother runs to the bathroom. This does not go well. Engrossed in his game of Whack-A-Mole, he doesn’t notice Adelaide (or Addie as they call her) wander off as if called to by some unseen force. She strolls past a man with a cardboard sign reading “Jeremiah 11:11” as she makes her way toward the sand where a few groups have bonfires going. She walks towards the spot where the crashing waves meet the sand as thunder begins to roar in the distance, accompanied by flashes of lightning. She turns towards an attraction that has clearly piqued her curiosity.
She makes her way inside just as the heavens open and rain begins to pour onto the beach. She wanders along through the mirrored hallway and the power goes out suddenly. She begins to show fear for the first time and walks toward what she thinks is the exit but is obviously a reflection and a dead end. Now, panic is beginning to set in. She looks around, desperate to get out of the mirrored prison when she finds what looks to be her reflection, but it is staring in the same direction she is. The mirror girl begins to turn, and Adelaide screams.
This is the driving force of the movie, which sets everything into motion. As the story unfolds we are shown how her life has unfolded, from therapy sessions as a child to using ballet as a means of overcoming her trauma because she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of what happened in the mirror house. Unfortunately, we are not privy to everything that happened, but we can assume it was something horrific.
Now, we see her as an adult, married with two children as they arrive at their vacation home, not far from the beach where her trauma occurred. She does relent and they go visit their friends Kitty and Josh, played by Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men, The Handmaid’s Tale) and Tim Heidecker (Tim and Eric’s Bedtime Stories, Ant-Man and The Wasp) at the very beach where our plot kicked off and Adelaide’s life was forever altered. There’s even a scare when Jason wanders off, causing his mother to panic. He also comes across the same hall of mirrors from the opening scenes, although it’s got a different name now, the secondary sign is still there. It reads “Find Yourself”.
She is having a lot of anxiety over being back in the area, especially with her feelings of dread and strange coincidences piling up. Finally, it becomes too much for her and she decides that it would be best for her and her family to leave, go back home and get as far away from her past as she can. But, it’s too late. Something has come for her and her family.
What ensues is pure adrenalin, pure tension; Jordan Peele is a master of suspense. Not only can he craft an incredible story, but the cast he assembles performs at a level not often seen in the horror genre. Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Black Panther), who plays Adelaide as an adult should garner an Oscar nomination and be a strong contender to win her second award (she won for 12 Years a Slave) based on her performance. Winston Duke (Black Panther) as Gabe does a masterful job of bringing comedy and livening up the overall desperation of the situation his family faces. The children Zora and Jason, played by Shahadi Wright Joseph (The Lion King 2019) and Evan Alex (Kidding, Mani, Eight) respectively absolutely crush their roles, especially Evan Alex because of his portrayal of his own doppelganger, which was absolutely the creepiest part of the movie.
I really enjoyed this film, and I highly recommend that if you are a fan of horror you check it out. It doesn’t play off of clichés or stereotypical horror tropes. Peele is consistently transcending horror even as he reinvents it. I will say that this is one of the biggest reasons why I’m pleased that he is taking over the Twilight Zone reboot, and I cannot wait to see what he brings us next.
Us is in theaters today.
Patrick Rahall covers entertainment for MFST. Follow him on Twitter at PatrickRahall.