No laughing matter: Peele’s ‘Us’ a brilliant modern horror film
The doppelgängers arrive in the cover of darkness in "Us" — the newest horror film from modern master storyteller Jordan Peele.Image By: Photo courtesy of Variety
The horror genre has become more appreciated within the last decade or so, with films like “It," “The Witch," “A Quiet Place," “Get Out” and “The Babadook” able to terrify audiences while simultaneously examining important topics surrounding human nature.
Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” from 2017 was a film that so creatively examined racial tensions in the United States and gripped us to our cores that we’ll be analyzing the film for decades. Peele, in his second feature, crafts a film similar in style and energy, yet grounded and based on different societal themes that are executed profoundly well. “Us” is a monumental piece of cinema that is a gift to the horror genre.
“Us” follows the story of a family vacationing in Santa Cruz, California, visiting the same beach that the mother of the family and the film’s protagonist Adelaide (Academy Award-winner Lupita Nyong’o) visited as a child, where she encountered a doppelgänger, better known as an exact clone of herself. Adelaide explains this to her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) before their family is hunted and terrorized by not only Adelaide’s doppelgänger clone, but the clones of their entire family of four.
Peele proves yet again that he’s more than a silly comedian, who on his Comedy Central sketch show “Key & Peele” became one of the country’s most beloved comedic talents. Peele is a master of building tension and suspense, requiring his audience to pay attention and commit to being fully immersed in detecting the rich depth his unusual and creative conflicts exert.
With “Us," Peele isn’t focusing on race relations, but rather society and humanity as a whole. The film demands that we reflect on how different environments produce different people, how the past influences the present and who we truly are as a society. It becomes evident that there are subtle plot references to American history and the current state of American society. Peele wants his audience to contemplate how we view the other, whatever that may be to each individual. In dealing with a family facing the violent duplicates of themselves, Peele goes further as a storyteller and delivers a full-throttle suspense thriller that leaves us thinking well after we exit the theater.
Complementing this layered story is the tremendous filmmaking style that Peele seems to have grown comfortable with. Similar to “Get Out," most notably the "sunken place" scene, “Us” has a number of visually arresting shots and sequences that give the film a gorgeous style. Filled with vivid imagery that evokes metaphorical visual storytelling, “Us” is a directorial powerhouse.
Lupita Nyong’o does wonders in playing two roles, one as the protective and troubled mother Adelaide and the other as the strange and dangerous clone of herself. Despite her strong performance, Nyong’o could have been cast differently and may be hard to connect with audiences. Despite being 36 years old, Nyong’o looks very young, making it hard for the audience to identify her as a mother due to looking like she could be the older sister of the kids who she’s supposed to be the mother of. Her performances are splendid, yet this isn’t a role that only she could play.
Winston Duke does a great job of adding just the right amount of comedic relief and acting genuinely confused and surprised as the terror and action unfolds. Both kids give stand-out performances and promise further acting careers.
Perhaps what makes “Us” work so well is how Peele is able to use the influences that inspired him to be a filmmaker, like Alfred Hitchcock, while also being able to craft a fresh and original film that belongs solely to him as an artist. Peele is a gifted director with brilliant visions that define his own trademark. We’re truly lucky to live in a time when Jordan Peele is directing movies, for each time he proves that he is in fact much more than a comedian and one of the most profound storytellers of our generation.
Final Grade: A
Dominic LeRose is a staff writer for the Daily Cardinal. To read more of his work, click here.Subscribe to The Daily Cardinal Newsletter