The highly anticipated Jordan Peele film “Us” holds a mirror up to society, revealing the terrifying consequences of its actions. This horror masterpiece crafts a brilliant rumination on the terrors that the oppressive forces of privilege create for others, bolstered by an Oscar-worthy performance by Lupita Nyong’o. In the world that Peele creates, even the seemingly innocuous line “we are Americans,” will send shivers down audience members’ spines.
“Us” centers on a family vacationing in Santa Cruz, Calif., where the family matriarch, Adelaide Wilson, played by Nyong’o, had a traumatic experience as a child that would come back throughout her life.
The film shows a flashback younger Adelaide, played by Madison Curry, wanders away from her family at the boardwalk and ends up alone on the beach. The camera stays at the height of young Adelaide, who clutches a stark red candy apple to her chest as she stands staring at the intimidating storm clouds approaching before finding herself in an abandoned hall of mirrors.
Returning to that same beach on vacation with her husband Gabe and her children Zora, portrayed by Shahadi Wright Joseph, and Jason, played by Evan Alex, rightfully scares her. Gabe, played by Winston Duke, dismisses her fears, however, so they can meet up with family friends, the Tylers, portrayed by Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss. Despite her ominous memories, Adelaide’s fears go unrealized at the beach, and the family heads home for the night where the perfect second act kicks into gear.
That night, their son, Jason, points out that a family of four is standing eerily in the driveway. As Gabe attempts to drive the intruders off the property, the family rushes and forcefully enters the house. As the Wilsons huddle on the couch, the intruders reveal themselves to be the family’s perverse doppelgangers. The same actors who play the Wilsons play the doppelgangers called the Tethered, imbuing members of the family with sinister qualities and actions. Although all of the performances are terrific, Nyong’o’s performance as Red is especially heartstopping and award-worthy. Red is the leader of the Tethered family, and Nyong’o haunts as she haltingly croaks her lines.
The performances of the entire cast are astounding, from Moss’ entitled housewife to Duke’s dorky dad. Nyong’o, however, shines brightest in “Us,” her first leading role in a feature film. Nyong’o masters the task of balancing her two roles to perfection.
Although the film terrifies, its humor also stands out among its generation of cinema. While Gabe functions as the typical comic relief throughout the film, he pulls off the trope in an unexpected fashion. Audiences will laugh and gasp in the same breath throughout the movie, as Peele never lets the viewer relax and get a hold of the proceedings.
The humorous elements fade away, however, in the complex third act, which devolves into some messy exposition of the movie’s themes. Despite this fallback, Peele truly surprises in his movie’s fitting ending. Peele does not take shortcuts throughout this film, preventing the standard horror twists from feeling like cheap tropes.
Audiences will be tempted to compare “Us” with Peele’s directorial debut, “Get Out,” but they will enjoy “Us” much more if they consider it on its own. “Get Out” was a perfectly crafted script that innovatively commented on racial issues in America, leading to its deserved win of the 2018 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. “Us,” falls within the horror-thriller genre more straightforwardly. Unlike Peele’s previous film, he did not make “Us” to comment on racial politics again, according to The Guardian. “Us” deals with multiple themes and ideas that inspire rewatching, even if they sometimes become hard to follow.
“Us” is a cinematic masterpiece that cements Peele’s place among the greatest directors of our generation. Despite receiving almost five times the budget allotted to “Get Out,” Peele refuses to stray from discussing the difficult issues of the human condition in his films for more typical blockbuster themes. While comparisons to Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick are apt, Peele is a wholly original director with a cinematic flair and comedic sense like no other. Expect to see more movies like “Us” and “Get Out” gaining similar accolades, because Peele has seemingly revived the horror genre and brought it into the world of critical acclaim.