New filmmaking careers are always exciting to watch, especially when they have a debut that’s so strong. Look no further than Jordan Peele, who won an Academy Award for this debut screenplay that was Get Out. He already had a lot of experience in comedy with MadTV and Key & Peele, but the fact that a horror-comedy-satire won the most “prestigious” award in the industry is nothing to sneeze at. From here on out, audiences and other filmmakers have been waiting in mass anticipation to see what entertainingly twisted idea he would have next.

Us follows the Wilson family, consisting of mother Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), father Gabe (Winston Duke), daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright), and son Jason (Evan Alex), all going on a vacation to their friend’s summer resort. The whole family is eager to visit the Santa Cruz beach, except Adelaide has reservations due to a traumatizing childhood experience there. As a child, she saw another child who looked exactly like her, scarring her for life. The Wilson’s decide to go anyway, and it turns out Adelaide’s fear are justified. Later that night, a group of people that looks just like the Wilson’s arrive at the resort, invade, and begin terrorizing them. Where did these doppelgängers come from, and even more importantly, who actually are they?

Get Out was one of my favorite films of 2017, all because of writer/director Jordan Peele’s astonishing ability to balance horror, comedy, and satire. What makes Us different than his debut is that it’s not a slowly unraveling mystery where you know there’s something wrong, but not really sure what. Peele plays his hand in the first half hour of the film, setting up the premise of a home invasion by murderous doppelgängers. Peele sets a heavy atmosphere from the opening shot, where everything has this sort of empty, haunted look to it. There are a lot of long, slowly zooming shots of symmetrical camerawork that makes you feel like something is creeping in on the family. Michael Abel’s haunting score just added to the anxiety, and he’s quickly becoming one of my favorite horror film composers, with this and Get Out. His musical style and Peele’s directorial sensibilities complement each other perfectly. 

But once the doppelgängers show up, the slow pace is dropped and it’s a full on thrill ride of scares and laughs. Each family member has to deal with their respective clone, whether running, fighting, playing, or whatever other twisted games they want to play. There are loads of fun setpieces, especially one featuring Gabe fighting his other self on a boat. Sometimes these more action heavy scenes were hard to decipher and felt a little bit sloppily directed, which probably could have been from Peele’s limited budget. It never stops the palpable suspense, though, and that same deliberate cinematography and editing is still present to create a terrifying atmosphere. I especially loved the split diopter shot near the end, emphasizing the two different personalities and worlds the person and their doppelgänger represent. There are some truly creepy shots and even better, Peele knows how to correctly utilize jump scares. There aren’t many, but they’re always appropriately placed after a proper suspenseful buildup. A lot of the scares are more “blink and you’ll miss it” stuff in the background, which is the exact kind of stuff I love.

The whole duality concept also allows each actor to show their range in how they play starkly different characters. Aside from Red (Adelaide’s doppelgänger), the doppelgängers can’t speak, resorting to animalistic grunts and screams. It sometimes came off as really campy, but it was also genuinely terrifying and creepy having yourself try to murder you, all while sounding like some rabid animal. All of the performances are great, even from the child actors, but Lupita Nyong’o is the real star here. She obviously gets a lot more to work with than the other characters, but she’s compelling as both Adelaide and Red. As Adelaide she’s quiet and reserved from past trauma, but she’s a mother to be reckoned with when that past comes back to haunt her and tries to hurt her family. As Red, she’s terrifying, with her demonic sounding, raspy voice and blank, emotionless stare. Her performance as Adelaide is a great contrast to Winston Duke’s performance of an out of touch dad who makes cheesy jokes. He tries to act tough when the chips are down, but it’s all a veneer and he provides some of the biggest laughs. Special shoutout to Elisbaeth Moss and Tim Heidecker for making the most out of their supporting roles, being the two most entertaining actors in the film.

The social satire here is definitely present, but much more subtle than Get OutGet Out was pretty clear all the way through that it’s about black-white race relations in the United States, but the message of Us seems much more subtle. To get into it would be a big spoiler of the film, but it’s a way more nuanced take on a much more difficult subject. There’s certainly a lot of stale exposition that explains everything, and it would have been nice to see some things explored in a more visual manner. Still, it definitely makes for some disturbing scenarios and when you take into account what it all means and leads up to, it really is unsettling. The ending didn’t completely work for me, but it’s a memorable one that sticks with you. Even if the concept doesn’t quite stick the landing, the story and characters itself have a very satisfying conclusion. Just like them, you just want to take a deep breath when it’s all over. 

Us is certainly a more complicated film than Get Out and the social satire here may not have been as hard hitting, but I think I enjoyed it marginally more simply because it’s one of the best horror-comedy experiences I’ve ever had. It’s non-stop funny and non-stop scary, with perfectly timed comedy that never takes away from the thrills. The performances and story really elevate it above most modern horror films too, making not just a great horror film, but just a great film in general. With the obvious box office success this will achieve, it’s official that Peele will keep pumping out exciting and intriguing films for the rest of his career and I couldn’t be happier.


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