“Us” is likely to become a horror classic, up there in the Hall of Fame with “The Shining” and “Psycho.” Deeply unsettling from beginning to end, Jordan Peele’s sophomore film does not disappoint. The director set the bar high with “Get Out” and branches into new territory with “Us,” showing the true breadth of his talent and his uncanny ability to be horrifying and hilarious at the same time.
“Us” is difficult to describe without revealing spoilers, but the basic premise revolves around a black family that goes on vacation to its summer beach home, only to be attacked by another family of doppelgangers. While “Get Out” is grounded in normalcy for the majority of the film and becomes more unsettling as time goes by, leading to an explosive twist, “Us” brings on the horror almost immediately. The opening sequence features a haunting anthem reminiscent of “Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga,” the title theme from “Get Out.” Both were composed by Michael Abels, whose score makes half the horror of both films.
Adding to the terror is the fact that nobody — the main characters, most of the world, or the audience — knows what is happening. Horror films are often based on a simple premise of a monster, killer or supernatural entities preying on their victims, simply because they are evil by nature. “Us” throws us into confusion, and I spent most of the film racking my brains as to what the villains wanted, whether the villains were even real, and what was happening in general. There are also multiple unpredictable twists, particularly the final, earth-shattering twist that changes the viewer’s perception of the entire story.
Peele seems to have created a whole genre of layered, symbolic, cerebral and racial horror. If you’re sick of sequels, reboots and superhero movies, Peele’s films do not disappoint when it comes to originality. Just as in “Get Out,” “Us” is crawling with metaphors and symbolism — hit the bathroom before the film, because you don’t want to miss the slightest detail. Everything, from T-shirts to rabbits to scissors to posters, has a hidden meaning. You’ll spend the film on the edge of your seat, while simultaneously analyzing and questioning every scene.
Lupita N’Yongo gives an Oscar-worthy performance, and Elizabeth Moss is also captivating as her white foil, the matriarch of a white family living in a slightly nicer summerhouse nearby.
My only criticism of the film is that it is perhaps too layered with symbolism — I had to Google the film and Peele’s press statements afterward to completely understand its true meaning. We are presented with three main metaphors: first, that we as Americans have skeletons in the closet of our nation’s history that we often try to conveniently forget about. Secondly, the “other” — immigrants, Native Americans, racial minorities — are as human as we are. Thirdly, it’s often difficult to tell who is the victim and who is the villain, and we have to check our predisposed biases in life. While these metaphors are brilliant, I shouldn’t have had to research them for the movie to make sense. A bit more exposition or explanation without being too heavy-handed would have been welcome.
Regardless, the film is truly horrifying without relying too heavily on jump scares and will no doubt be up for Academy Awards. Leave the kids at home, watch this movie, then spend an hour at the bar with your friends trying to unpack it in confused shock (that’s what I did, at least).
PS: If you like “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys, maybe skip this one because you’ll never be able to listen to it again.