Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) suffered a traumatic experience in a boardwalk attraction when she was a child, and when she reluctantly returns to Santa Cruz beach with her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and children she is forced to realise that her childhood nightmare has returned, in the form of a mysterious family standing motionless in their driveway.
There has been a lot of hype for Jordan Peele’s second foray into horror after Get Out was both a box-office and critical smash, and also plenty of discussion whether his new film would continue the razor-sharp commentary on race in the US that his first did. The answer to that is both no, and yes. The film doesn’t comment on racial issues directly (although they are constantly lurking beneath the surface) but the fact that it contains a black family which is written explicitly as a black family (rather than having black actors play parts that could have been cast as white) without their race being integral to the plot is pretty unique in horror, if not all of film. Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke are very strong leads, with Nyongo’s intense performance deftly balanced by a slightly more light-hearted performance by Duke, albeit without coming across as the comic turn.
The whole cast is strong and given the rather demanding requirements of the main roles this is vital – having kids in horror is always a risk as a poor performance from a young actor can be really cringeworthy but 10 year old Evan Alex is clearly an upcoming star, playing Jason, the family’s youngest child, an apparently non-neurotypical boy without dropping into many of the tropes that are pitfalls with that sort of role.
It’s not much of a spoiler at this stage to say that the film features doppelgängers – the marketing and trailers indicate this quite clearly, and so I can say without ruining anything that the ability of the leads to swap between the dual roles they are playing is key, and they pull it off with aplomb, even when the scenes involve both roles interacting in-shot, which must be an acting challenge. There are several twists and turns to the plot and although many of them don’t come as a huge surprise to anyone paying attention, this film is no less enjoyable for it – as with many horror films the journey is just as important as the destination, and in Us Jordan Peele is clearly having a lot of fun taking us from location to location with real attention to detail and a great love for the genre – given that people seem determined to call Get Out a thriller he’s clearly set out here to create something that nobody could ever mistake for being anything but a horror film. And as well he should. This is a fantastic horror film and deserves to be treated as such.
The cinematography is also impressive, especially the lighting which is beautiful whilst also not taking you out of the moment, and the score by Michael Abels (who also did Get Out) is as tense as the film itself, and links well with the use of existing songs to provide a strong audio signature for the events on screen. I don’t think I’ll ever see ‘I‘ve got 5 On It‘ by Luniz the same ever again after its use in one of the most striking scenes in the entire film, using lighting and choreography in ways that left me reeling from how well composed it was.
If there are any criticisms to take away from Us (and there really aren’t many) it would be that one of the key reveals of the third act is a bit clunky and requires a fair bit of glaring exposition when it might have been better done as more carefully portioned flashbacks instead of one infodump, but that’s a small point which is easily ignored when the performances involved are so good. Lupita Nyong’o is consistently good across her entire body of work but in this she clearly shows the same form that earned her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, and in two roles to boot. I can only hope that this is the year that the Academy are forced to recognise that horror is a genre worthy of consideration.
Us is pure horror with strong performances and a tight plot, with Peele proving that he can provide both a comfortable nod to the history of horror whilst still surprising us with novel storytelling. Definitely recommended.
Us is on general release now at cinemas nationwide.
Richard is one of the hosts of Bela Lugosi’s Shed, a podcast exploring Horror, in all its chilling forms. The show covers everything from classic horror novels and films through to modern computer games and music. The podcast is also broadcast weekly on Bunkazilla UK.