I can’t discuss Jordan Peele’s latest film, Us in any kind of satisfying way without being a little spoilery so I decided to split this review with a break midway so you can leave before I discuss anything related to the plot.
Lupita Nyong’o as Adelaide Watson has set the bar for all of next year’s awards here and now. It’s a tremendous and nuanced performance on both sides as her dark mirror as well. While my fellow country man Winston Duke makes a lovable turn as her husband, Gabe Wilson, all hail the Queen.
A while back, I wrote about how weak The Nun because of its reliance on noise heavy jump scares without any kind of patience to build true dread or unease in the viewer. Us is a masterclass in what I meant because I can’t think of a single jump scare from it. If anything, there are moments where Peele seems to be playing on audiences’ conditioning to expect jump scares and then subverting it with the uneasy dread or, in some cases, human comedy.
The plot moves along at a lean clip, and I can’t think of an ounce of fat to be found in this movie, all this despite a robust cast that all feel unique and fleshed out- even the supporting cast outside the main quartet of the Watsons. Peele’s pedigree as a sketch comedian really shows its stripes here: characterization, clear movement from scene to scene focusing around the game he’s presenting to the audience for a given act, it’s one of the best horror movies of the modern era.
I saw it with the same friend I saw Suspiria with, and we both acknowledged after the movie that it felt as if it had a lot of the same fabric in terms of tone and pacing, as well as the more primal fears it drew from to scare us. On that note, I’ll conclude the non-spoilers section with: this is a spectacular movie and well worth your time not just if you’re a fan of horror, but if you’ve ever enjoyed any horror movie at all. Afraid of spoilers? Here’s your warning:
It’s impossible to discuss this movie without acknowledging the race/socio-economic undertones of it, but to fully discuss it I have to spoil certain things. In the first 15 minutes of the film after the family arrive to the summer home, we meet the Tylers, a neighboring, richer white family with Tim Heidecker as the patriarch Josh, Elizabeth Moss as his sharp tongued wife Kitty, and their twins (because creepy white twins is a trope Peele couldn’t resist) played by Calli and Noelle Sheldon.
I mentioned the “game” shifts act to act. In the first act where we meet the Tylers, the game is the onset dread of things not being quite right, of Adelaide (Nyong’o) knowing something’s coming, and her being the “crazy one” in the face of the everyone else around her being the voices of reason. This is especially apparent at the beach, where the Tylers’ as voices of reason distract themselves and try to distract Adelaide with booze, prescription pills, and conversations about plastic surgery (God bless Elizabeth Moss).
We come back to the Tyler’s in what could be considered the third act, after the terrors have appeared in the open, and the Watson family has fled. The Watsons don’t realize the Tylers suffered their own assault, and have been replaced by their doppelgangers, here and throughout the movie Peele subverts tropes: it’s not the black family, or even a black individual who dies first in this movie. In fact, the white family does. Digging a little deeper: it’s the white peoples’ whiteness and sense of invincibility in their shining fortress of a mansion that makes them the quicker victims.
There’s more yet I can dig into as far as the origins of these doppelgangers: manufactured duplicates of above world equivalents bred for unspecified intent to live underneath. What does that say about heritage, class and background that these threats rise up from underneath having neither comfort, culture, nor even exposure to the natural world that we enjoy and take for granted in their eyes?
[Ultimate spoiler warning, turn back now]
What are we to make of the fact that our heroine is herself from that depth, and traded places in adolescence, only to now protect and keep her place with us here by literally killing herself and the other dark mirrors that came up from underneath?
Jordan Peele, you’re a master at the craft, bravo.