Jordan Peele’s sophomore effort, Us, is easily one of the most anticipated horror movies of 2019. Released on March 22nd, Us kicks off what promises to be a hot wave of horror over the next several months. Horror fans can look forward to Pet Sematary, It: Chapter Two, The Curse of La Llorona, and the Child’s Play remake. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Critics are raving about Us, so does it live up to the hype?
During a family trip to the Santa Cruz boardwalk, a young Adelaide wanders away from her parents. She’s briefly gets lots in a ‘hall of mirrors’ where something seriously traumatized her. Years later, Adelaide returns to Santa Cruz beach with her husband and two children. Still haunted by faint childhood memories, Adelaide increasingly believes something wrong. Later, in the middle of the night, her fears come true. A family standing outside in their driveway want to get into their home.
Us a Rollercoaster Ride of Suspense and Tension
From the opening moment where a VHS copy of CHUD is visible on a shelf, you know you’re in good hands. In his sophomore effort, Peele confirms that he has excellent handle of how to build and maintain suspense. For its opening 30 minutes or so, Us is slow-burn horror, expertly dropping ominous hints here and there. Once the ‘home invasion’ being, Peele shows restarting. Things don’t explode into ‘cat and mouse’ violence straight way. Instead, Peele slows things down, wringing maximum tension out of the confrontation between the Wilson Family and their doppelgängers.
Everything from editing to the use of sound is done with absolute precision.
Horror fans need not worry. No sooner than Peele opens the floodgates, he rarely takes his foot off the accelerate. Us maintains long stretches of suspense that will have you watching the action through your fingers. Everything from editing to the use of sound is done with absolute precision. Adelaide’s final confrontation with her doppelgänger, ‘Red’, is masterfully filmed. It’s illustrative of Peele’s expert grasp of the genre.
Us More Ambiguously Layered Storytelling
For those of you who have complained that Hollywood movie trailers spoil too much, Us will feel like a breath of fresh air. Its promotional trailers are probably 90% comprised of footage from a 15-minute stretch in the movie. For a brief chuck of time, Us is a home invasion movie, but it’s so much more than that sub-genre. Peele offers up one shock that he follows up with another before leaving us with one last clever wink. Each of these twists is well-earned. Peele is an economical story-teller; there’s no wasted screen-time in Us.
This is a movie that references abandoned underground tunnels and ‘Hands Across America’, and makes it work.
Where Us really diverges from Get Out though is with its more ambiguous subtext. Peele’s antagonists, ‘The Untethered’, are mirror images of our nuclear familiar protagonists. But who are they and what do they want? Peele has crafted a story that will puzzle audiences long after the final credits. And he’s done it with minimal exposition that never feels lazy. This is a movie that references abandoned underground tunnels and ‘Hands Across America’, and makes it work. Is Us about how the perils of social marginalization in countries where a handful enjoy ridiculous wealth and privilege? Or is it about the hate and social divide that currently defines America? No spoilers here. I’ll just say that Peele has crafted some rich subtext into wickedly suspenseful thriller.
Lupita Nyong’o Delivers Oscar-Worthy Performance
Last year, Toni Collette turned in an Oscar-worthy performance in Hereditary. Sadly, the Academy didn’t notice. Another year, another horror movie, and another stellar acting performance. Lupita Nyong’o is a powerhouse in not just one, but two roles. That’s she able to so clearly create two characters who are the same, but not, is a testament to her talent. There’s such a range and intensity to her delivery.
Us is rounded out by an impressive supporting cast. Once again Winston Duke’s charisma shines through in a role that adds some necessary levity to the move. Both child actors – Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex – are sure to turn heads in their roles. Though she doesn’t have much screen time, Elizabeth Moss reminds us why we loved her so much in Mad Men.
Us An Early Contender for Best Horror Movie of 2019
With Us, Jordan Peele avoids any sophomore slump. In fact, Us is arguably more layer from a story-telling perspective than Get Out. It’s certainly a more ambiguous movie. Where Peele has truly excelled is with his ability seamlessly merge horror blockbuster filmmaking with art-house craft. Now just three months into 2019, we have a strong contender for best horror movie the year.