We Are Our Own Worst Enemy. Jordan Peele’s second horror outing is, much like the film’s doppelgänger themes, a Janus film indeed. A disturbing and separating film that will divide audiences. After Peele’s Oscar-winning Get Out turned into the surprise critical and commercial hit of 2017, expectations and hopes were high for his next horror venture. Rest assured, Peele’s flair for the thrill was no fluke. His sophomore feature is one of the most intriguing and cleverly original horror films… ever. While it will continue to divide audiences regarding both its merit and narrative, one simply cannot dismiss this spookfest as a frightening innovative thriller, irrespective of all its irregularity and confusion.
Haunted by an unexplainable trauma from her past and concerned by a string of eerie coincidences, Adelaide (a spine-tingling spectacular Lupita Nyong’o) feels her paranoia explode as she grows increasingly certain that something bad is going to befall her family. After the family return to their vacation home, the Wilsons discover the silhouette of four figures holding hands as they stand in the driveway. Us pits an endearing American family against a terrifying and uncanny opponent: doppelgängers of themselves.
Us is a mixture of George Orwell’s 1984 and Funny Games – part home-invasion thriller, part ambitious modern mythology with a science fiction construct. Written, directed and produced by Peele; his duality picture feels more robust and confident then Get Out, however one gets the sense that he is only half way to creating his unique style; as Us suffers from an over use of classic horror tropes. While Get Out shovelled a barely ‘sub’ sub-text of racial politics in modern America, Us has the same heavy handed agenda peddling but instead the theme is more common with a meditation on nefarious governmental ideologies and a ‘perverted’ ideal of the All American family. Peele’s script is both funny and weighty.
Like The Shining, there are a number of different ways to interpret the films proceedings that will subsequently cause much discussion. However, for those that can keep up through the vast mess it’s pretty cut-and-dry, though Peele’s film will likely reward audiences on multiple viewings, each visit revealing something new. Every image seems to be a clue, the first frames marry eerily well with the film’s final moments. The camera composition, the score, the eerie sense of unease all amounts to one of the slickest and most promising horror opening scenes in recent memory. Followed by a mesmerizing title credits sequence that utterly possesses the viewer (why are white rabbits so scary?), however after this the film struggles to keep up with its promise of true terror.
The performances are great across the board, with each of the lead actors playing their own creepy copies with marvellous physicality. However, its Lupita Nyong’o who gives an Oscar calibre performance that leaves one as breathless as her; a physical, vocal, and emotional performance that is an achievement on another level. Her evil doppelgänger is a nightmarish creation of a truly talented and creative actress. Astounding. As the ‘good’ Adelaide is forced to kill you see her eyes change… and as the two face off and the nature of their bond becomes more evident, we are treated with a pleasurable, if a little obvious, twist. After Essie Davis in The Babadook (2014) and more notably Toni Collette in last year’s Hereditary (2018), great female horror performances are certainly the trend.
The biggest letdown of the film is that Peele doesn’t quiet mine the rich psychological terror of the central visual image/moment. The notion of a family of evil doppelgängers’ attempting to violently usurp their doubles could have been explored more. This is unfortunate because when Peele fleetingly does dig into that unnatural terror, boy is it scary. Us is an innovative and original thriller anchored by Lupita Nyong’o, Peele has crafted a thought-provoking scare fest that despite what people say, is not as scary as one is led to believe. Peele is fast becoming a Master of Modern Horror. Alfred Hitchcock also had to start somewhere.
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