Jordan Peele holds A Mirror Up To Us In “Us”
What do red jumpsuits, patriotism, Hands Across America, evil doppelgangers, throat stabbings, the end of the world, and Tim Heidecker all have in common? They all populate the world of Jordan Peele’s sophomore horror outing, “Us”.
The film follows a middle class black family, the Wilsons, on vacation in Santa Cruz, California. The mother, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), is anxious about returning to Santa Cruz after a mysterious event in her childhood took place there. After a long, disappointing first day to their vacation, four identical clones of themselves appear in their driveway. What ensues is a violent, bloody, but often bitingly hilarious satire of race, class, and how Americans are taught to remember both societal and personal memories.
Peele has outdone himself here. “Us” is scarier, funnier, and somehow more personal than his justifiably acclaimed 2017 debut “Get Out”.
Functioning as a character study of both Adelaide and her doppelganger Red, “Us” allows Lupita Nyong’o to give the best performance of her career so far. Nyong’o effortlessly alternates between sympathetic, fearful, and downright sinister. This film is her film. Nyong’o carries “Us” from the moment she appears on screen, and her performance coupled with Peele’s smart script is a marriage made in hell. She perfectly embodies not only the murderous struggle between Adelaide and Red, but also their bizarre case of yin and yang.
The two child leads, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex, deliver admirable first performances where they too have to do a similar balancing act. Winston Duke and Tim Heidecker both provide a lot of laughs, but Duke brings more to the table (granted Heidecker has a much smaller role).
Peele is excellent at tonal shifts. He knows when to provide comic relief, but he also knows how to lull the audience into a false sense of security. There are a few moments where Peele ambushes his seemingly, laidback comedic scenes with crimson slasher horror in a way that doesn’t come off as a cheap jump scare, but as a profoundly revolutionary development in horror-comedy.
The film score, composed by “Get Out” alum Michael Abels, is critical to the tone of the film. Consisting of sharp string arrangements and high pitched operatics, the score creates a profoundly unsettling feeling. The score is anxietal, mirroring Adelaide’s fears.
The ending of “Us” will leave you shattered. It is scary, funny and oh-so subtly moving. Don’t wait for Netflix, see it in theaters while you still can.