Us will leave you thoroughly unsettled and questioning reality


Jordan Peele’s sophomore effort is a highly ambitious blend of horror and social comedy that proves he’s a master of the unpredictable.

When comic actor Jordan Peele announced plans to direct, it was met with skepticism, enhanced by how little buzz his initial film had prior to releasing its first trailer and a hasty release date. But, as we all know, Peele knew what he was doing, taking Get Out all the way to the Academy Awards.

With his follow-up film, Us, that skepticism has turned to stratospheric anticipation. Us certainly rides the hype train to its logical conclusion with Peele proving that he’s a highly ambitious filmmaker who understands horror. Us, at times, is so unsettling and disturbing that it’s too much, a feature that focuses on the fear of the familiar as opposed to something out of this world. While it doesn’t nail down the climax, Us is a highly unpredictable, unique, and haunting horror feature that tethers itself to you.

Us (2019). Photo Credit: Claudette Barius / Universal Pictures

The Wilsons are on vacation at their summer home near Santa Cruz, but matriarch Addie (Lupita Nyong’o) can’t shake an overwhelming feeling of dread. When a family shows up at the end of their driveway the Wilsons will confront their greatest fear.

Describing Us in a spoiler-free environment is difficult, particularly when you’re afraid nearly every plot point itself is a spoiler; the benefits of releasing one solid trailer and keeping everything else under wraps. Suffice it to say at least 90 percent of this movie isn’t being revealed in the trailers.

That being said, Jordan Peele rewrites the rule book on what a horror movie should do. The film starts in 1986, with a young Addie (newcomer Madison Curry who nails down silent film acting), wandering off from her bickering parents on the Santa Cruz boardwalk. An encounter inside a funhouse has scarred her for life, turning her into a highly overprotective mother.

Us (2019). Photo Credit: Claudette Barius / Universal Pictures

Nyong’o is the lifeblood of Us and between this and Little Monsters, she is the new horror heroine to beat. Unlike the stereotypical final girl, Nyong’o as Addie is a mother hellbent on keeping her family together at all costs. From the minute she arrives in Santa Cruz, the audience knows something is wrong, enhanced by cinematographer Mike Gioulakis’ penchant for letting the camera stay on her face.

We see the anxiety, the fear, the apprehension. But at what? Addie says she feels there’s a cloud following her, as if she’s cursed to unhappiness. It’s only by watching the plot unfold that the audience understands this fear is more than just Mercury in retrograde. Addie is a woman who knows the chickens are coming home to roost and the story goes in so many fascinating directions regarding her character.

The actress bears the brunt of this film, right down to having a third act confrontation that is expertly photographed as a balletic series of movements. This isn’t to say the rest of the cast is slacking. Winston Duke may be a hulk of a man physically, but the script presents him authentically as a man with limitations. He may have a bat at the ready, but there are plenty of moments where he doesn’t save the day and it’s real.

Us (2019). Photo Credit: Claudette Barius / Universal Pictures

The child stars though are nothing short of dazzling. Madison Curry’s silent expressions sear into your mind while Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex as the Wilson children can be as comical as they are intense. Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker, playing family friends Kitty and Josh, are a bit too funny in such a serious movie but create enough levity without overpowering the horror.

What makes Us stand out is the horror element itself. The Wilsons find themselves confronted by their dopplegangers, who present fear in everything from their looks to their mannerisms. If you’re easily frightened by people who move or talk unnaturally… you’re in trouble. From Nyong’o’s strangled speech as Red, the red-suited head of the alternate Wilson clan, to the masked Pluto, the physicality of the characters sticks in your mind. Additional characters that pop up throughout the film are presented as garish, cartoonish lessons in fear that always surprise you. The film doesn’t go for the quick jump scare, but instead lies in wait for the right moment to creep you out.

Us (2019). Photo Credit: Claudette Barius / Universal Pictures

The third act will either cement your love for Us or dampen the overall effect. What keeps Us suspenseful is what we don’t know. Who are these characters? Why are they here? Where did they come from? By trying to answer these queries the script presents a cadre of holes.

If one is to introduce a logical explanation, there needs to be worldbuilding to support that. Instead the climax is like a house of cards, falling apart because it wants audiences to understand. The terror of the unknown is far more affecting and it would have been nice for Peele to trust us.

Regardless of the ending Us is still an emotionally intense journey you have to undergo. If our greatest fear in life is our own identity, Us will screw with you on a near existential level.

Next. SXSW review: Little Monsters is THE horror comedy of 2019. dark