As brilliant as it was, Jordan Peele’s freshman outing Get Out (2017) always felt like more of a racially-conscious thriller than a horror flick to me. While I expected a similar vibe from its follow up, Us is in fact a different beast entirely, doing away with the more explicit satire of its predecessor and committing to good, old-fashioned, dread-inducing horror, and it’s better for it.
The film follows Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o, an early awards nod), her husband Gabe (Winston Duke), and two children Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex) as they travel to her family’s Santa Cruz beachfront home for the summer. In fact, this is the setting of the film’s spooky opening – tipped to become a horror classic, almost as good as Get Out‘s hypnosis scene. Over a few days at the cabin, Adelaide’s paranoia heightens – strange coincidences, spooky visions – but she and her husband write it off as just that: paranoia… that is until a doppelgänger family (the Tethered) show up on their drive.
Here is where the ‘horror’ really kicks into gear, as the film slowly ramps up the suspense, and the scares. Watching the family reckon with their doubles is really entertaining, especially as the jumpsuit-clad doppelgängers are so bizzare compared to their real world counterparts. Peele carefully maintains a similar tone to Get Out, balancing the shocks – now more concerned with the macabre than the psychological – with some light relief, often courtesy of Gabe. All the cast deliver excellent performances, a feat doubly impressive considering that everyone had to do effectively twice the work, and sell the characters of both their real selves and their Tethered doppelgängers. These performances further enhance the story (particularly in its final act, including an Inception-esque ending) exploring themes of xenophobia, self-destruction and the nature of reality.
Michael Abels’ pitch-perfect score, like in Get Out, helps to stir feelings of terror in the film’s more subtle moments, while NWA’s “Fuck Tha Police” is used to great comedic effect in one scene. The cinematography is also top-notch, with allusions to notably The Shining through some great aerial tracking shots. Here Peele continues the motif of smartly framing the faces of his characters in order to heighten the emotion or fear of a scene, shots iconic of their respective films. In Get Out, it was Daniel Kaluuya’s wide-eyed, tear-stained face during his hypnosis; in Us it is Madison Curry as she gasps with shock and awe at the sight of her doppelgänger.
Anyone concerned that Peele was perhaps a one hit wonder can put those fears to rest as he serves up another chilling and well-crafted horror movie. Is it better than Get Out? Maybe. But what’s important is that it doesn’t try to be, instead offering an entirely new experience, a must watch for both casual viewers in search of a gory slasher flick, and genre veterans looking for a new nightmare.