Are we our own worst enemy?
Jordan Peele’s latest film, “Us,” contemplates deeply personal, introspective ideas through the lens of horror.
The film’s main conceit, an ever precarious internal balance between good and evil, is pushed to the surface quite literally as a family on vacation are confronted by ominous doppelgängers of themselves, the violent opposite of their seemingly normal existence.
Peele’s second feature gives ample room for a talented cast to sink their teeth into multiple roles, with Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o shining in the lead role of Adelaide Wilson, the matriarch increasingly fearful of a return to the beach where she faced a childhood trauma.
Nyong’o also astounds as Red, the matriarch of the doppelgänger family described as “the tethered,” where the talented actress is able to delve deeply into the fractured psyche of horror’s most unique female character.
“Us” is a heady, thought provoking horror film that relies on thematic terror as much as, if not more so, than traditional jump-scares.
The less that is known about “Us” prior to a first viewing the better, though repeat screenings will help audiences fully understand Peele’s complex allegory.
The profound thing about “Us” is that the imminent danger comes from the duality of each lead actor’s performance both in a mirrored and parallel sense.
This especially rings true with Nyong’o’s mesmerizing turn as both Adelaide and her doppelgänger Red.
The ways in which Nyong’o separates Adelaide from Red to heighten tension, but simultaneously reveal a deeper connection beyond the physical is truly nuanced, inhabited work.
If either Adelaide or Red feel false to the audience, the whole feature comes tumbling down like a house of cards, yet Nyong’o is profoundly present in both the unhinged Red and more reserved Adelaide.
How Nyong’o evolves both characters slightly over the course of the film as the plot reveals more about “the tethered” helps solidify Peele’s allegory. Taking on two complex characters in the same film and putting them on an equal level is incredibly difficult, beautiful acting from Nyong’o.
The other leads of “Us” – Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex – also play their dual roles to perfection, with Alex especially shining in intimate moments between young Jason and his doppelgänger Pluto.
Cinematically, “Us” works best in its darker moments – at night and at the film’s most terrifying – as Peele collaborates with cinematographer Mike Gioulakis to create interesting, engaging shots that stimulate and accentuate the horror elements without become too gaudy.
This is especially effective in the family’s initial contact with “the tethered” as intimate shots of the family pressed against their doppelgänger build the suspense exponentially.
As easy as it would be to compare “Us” with Peele’s 2017 Oscar winning horror-comedy “Get Out,” this latest feature is a completely different animal that trades overt political statements for thematic allegory.
“Us” is the thinking man’s thriller, a film where Peele will point audiences in a direction and then push them to interpret the narrative of “Us” in their own way.
Some will see “Us” as a synonym for U.S., continuing a political motif from “Get Out” whereas others may dismiss this as a red herring designed to obscure what’s really going on.
Regardless, “Us” works as a singular genre film but should best be examined as an artistic interpretation of intentionally vague larger themes in much the same way Darren Aronofsky’s controversial “Mother” provided deeper allegory than a typical Friday night at the movies.
Though it’s much too early in the year to guarantee awards season acclaim, “Us” certainly has the potential to remain in the larger film conversation in the months to come, much like “Get Out” and “Black Panther” before it.
“Us” deserves strong consideration in the Best Picture and Best Director race as well as Michael Abels’ haunting score that lingers with audiences long after they’ve left the theater.
Acting performances in horror films rarely make waves in Oscar voting, but Nyong’o delivers the sort of layered, engulfing turn in dual roles that should break through the noise and potentially lead to her second Academy Award win following 2013’s “12 Years A Slave.”
More psychological thriller than outright terror, “Us” isn’t as scary as it is fear inducing and the film’s complexities will resonate with audiences long after they leave the theater.