Director Jordan Peele’s latest nightmare is best described as an episode of The Twilight Zone, if it were scripted by Dostoevsky and directed by George A. Romero. Us is a brilliant horror satire about doppelgängers going on a rampage and like Peele’s stunning debut Get Out (see our review), it’s really a biting commentary on contemporary American society dressed as a suspenseful, if slightly hyperbolic, horror film. So those familiar with his work will know not to take the tongue-in-cheek wackiness of the plot at face value.
Us follows an endearing family as they vacation at their remote holiday cabin. Determined to take their merry-making to the next level, Gabe (Winston Duke) convinces his wife Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), and kids to drive up to the nearby Santa Cruz beach where they catch up with another couple and their two teen daughters.
We also learn at the start of the movie through a very eerie flashback sequence that Adelaide sustained psychological trauma as a young girl in 1986. At a boardwalk carnival, she wandered off alone and found herself at the creepy funhouse of mirrors where she saw something that terrified her.
What happens next is obscured as the film jumps forward to the present day where Adelaide and her family hang out at the same beach where she had her scare all those years ago. She grows increasingly uneasy and her paranoia comes to a head that very night when their cabin gets broken into by four strangers.
As if things aren’t bad enough already, they discover, to their horror, that the four invaders are their doppelgängers, dressed in red jumpsuits and brandishing a pair of gold scissors. They are led by Adelaide’s double, who’s ominously named Red (also Nyong’o).
The family must then face their demons (literally!) in order to survive. And this is just the half of it! Peele has created a new and expansive horror mythology that will have genre fans theorising excitedly about it for a long time to come.
Like Get Out, Us is thematically loaded and bursting with symbolism. In true Peele fashion, this horror movie about psychotic doppelgängers is filled with deliciously wicked double meaning that serves as the vehicle for the film’s socially-conscious messaging.
It’s hard to do a deep dive into what Peele wants to convey without giving up spoilers and Us doles out enough suprises for viewers to go in with as little knowledge about the plot as possible. It is taut and bloody, so be prepared to process several stress-inducing fight-for-survival type sequences.
There are various ways to interpret the film but the thing to keep in mind is the idea of double meaning. It then makes sense that Us,refers to both the objective case of “we” as well as the United States. And the film all but confirms it when at one point Adelaide asks horrified, “What are you?” “We’re Americans,” Red quips.
Even Peele has said in several interviews that Us is not about race relations but the state of Trump-era America, particularly how extra divisive it has gotten in recent years, fuelled by an escalating fear of “the other”. The primary objective here is to hold up a mirror to American society and compel it to face its demons and acknowledge the duality that exists in us all.
Playing the likeable family and and their deranged doppelgängers also presents an opportunity for the cast to really showcase some range, and I’m happy to report that they all rise to the challenge. The performance that really anchors the film Is Nyong’o’s virtuosic turn as Adelaide and Red.
As Adelaide, the Oscar-winner plays the neurotic, protective and soulful mother convincingly. By contrast, as Red, she is cruel and downright frightening with an unsettling raspy voice which she devised especially for this character. It’s based on an actual medical condition called spasmodic dysphonia, a neurological disorder that causes involuntary spasms of the larynx. And it’s often a symptom of deep trauma.
Us may not be as tight and clear as Get Out, but it is still an effective horror film masterfully executed with intelligence. And in an industry that is saturated with comic book and novel adaptations as well as reboots and remakes, Peele belongs to a rare breed of filmmakers who make a conscious effort to realise their original ideas and scripts. And that’s something worth going to the cinema for!
Us is out in Singapore cinemas now. Have you seen it? Tell us what you think below.