Friday, March 22nd is the official theatrical release of director Jordan Peele’s sophomore film, Us. Luckily, we were able to score a couple of pre-screening passes and saw it early. No worries, this review is spoiler free.
“What is your part in the evils that you observe? In order for us to live a life in safety or relative safety, someone else has to live a life in danger.” (source)
In an interview with Fandango All Access, Jordan Peele stated that one of the key themes of Us is the tendency for people to wear blinders when it comes to the discomfort, pain, dangers, etc. that others deal with. Most people feel sorry for those dealing with issues or those who are less fortunate than themselves, but unless directly confronted with those realities, it is rare for one to take action against. In other words, it has become the norm to not only observe–yet somehow, ignore–the misfortunes that don’t directly affect us, but to become complicit in the systems that keep those evils in place.
As a young girl, Adelaide (Younger version portrayed by Madison Curry, debut film) wanders off from her parents at the Santa Cruz boardwalk carnival. She enters a hall of mirrors and gets lost inside the maze within. She has a terrifying experience when her reflection takes on a life of its own. As a result, she suffers from post traumatic stress disorder and goes selectively mute for a time. Her parents take her to a psychiatrist who advises that they encourage Adelaide to express herself in other ways, like drawing, writing, or dancing.
Years later, Adelaide (Older version portrayed by Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave, Black Panther) appears to have recovered (or is at least able to manage), and she heads to her family summer home with her husband Gabe Wilson (Winston Duke, Black Panther) and their children Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex). She begins to experience a series of odd coincidences that bring with them a feeling of dread. She opens up to Gabe about her traumatic experience and the dark cloud that she feels closing in around her.
The power suddenly goes out, and a family of four shows up outside the house. They behave strangely, standing stark still in the driveway and holding hands. The other family forces their way inside, and the Wilsons discover that the other family looks just like an off-kilter reflection of themselves. From there, the night becomes a nightmarish string of events that forces the Wilsons (and the audience) to, er, take a long, hard look in the mirror.
Us toys with the concept of the uncanny in such a unique and fascinating way. Everything about the other family is distorted just slightly enough to make them appear grotesque. The world they emerge from has a sterile/militant quality about it, yet it reminds one vaguely of school. Even the film’s ending is uncanny: predictable but with a twist. Part of what makes this film work is that it doesn’t need jump scares or overdone special effects. It plays with the eye and the mind with its lighting, camera work, actors’ excellent use of facial expressions, and just enough effects (whether they’re CGI or makeup/practical effects, I’m not sure) to distort human features just to the point where they’re unsettling.
Us is definitely from the same family as Get Out. Us is not a sequel by any means, or even necessarily part of the same universe as Get Out, but the alternating use of tension and comedy, the excellent use of score and soundtrack, the attention to social issues, and the emphasis of black people and culture are the skeleton of both films. Peele has left his imprint on the film industry and is redefining the horror genre in a way that is both so subtle, yet so striking. Personally, I cannot wait to see what he comes out with next.
Us is currently playing in theaters.