It only took one film for comedy veteran Jordan Peele to become Horror’s darling. Get Out catapulted him into an overnight sensation; turning heads and ticket sales, with hushed voices whispering “the new Hitchcock” to any uninformed earhole. The film also created a seat at the table for Peele – and sure, I guess I could to be high and mighty and say the seat was at Horror’s table, but he did win Best Screenplay at the 2018 Oscars, so I might have to concede a bit and say it was at Hollywood’s table.
Place settings aside, expectations have never been higher for Peele’s horror tinged follow-up Us. The initial marketing campaign dropped in heavy but vague doses. An almost touchably red poster with hints of white rabbits and glimmering gold sewing sheers. (I remember guessing Us was going to be some kind of Steampunk Sweeney Todd. Way off.) Influencers mailed real-life versions of those very sheers and warned to #WatchYourself – or – themselves, rather. Then the trailer dropped, and the horror-hungry finally caught their first glimpse of Us‘ secret: Doppelgangers.
What’s coming isn’t a surprise for Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o). Ever since her family returned to their summer home in Santa Cruz, Adelaide’s been tense and on edge – and justifiably so; the boardwalk – a carnival of blurry lights, joyful screams and sticky fingers – doesn’t reside in her memories as the home of summer fun, but of childhood trauma. Separating from her father one fateful night in 1986, young Adelaide wandered off past the carnival’s edges, toward the beach and the pier. Right into a hall of mirrors. It was in that spooky funhouse that Adelaide came face to face with herself. Only.. it wasn’t a reflection. And now, a grown adult with a husband and family of her own, Adelaide feels something is coming. There are too many coincidences, too much happenstance.
After her husband, Gabe (Winston Duke) convinces Adelaide they should all spend the day at that very beach, she isn’t the only one. While the parents catch up with summer pals Kitty and Josh Tyler (Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker), their daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and son Jason (Evan Alex) are left to their own devices. Which means it didn’t take long for Jason to wander off down the beach. Past that very house of mirrors.. and towards a man, standing stiff as a scarecrow, with blood dripping from his fingertips.
That night, when an uber creepy family appear in the shadows at the end of their driveway, the Wilson family must face a foe unimaginable. They look like them, they think like them.. but they definitely aren’t out to be BFFs.
Us‘ biggest success comes down to its impeccable casting. With everyone pulling double-duty, it’s insane the depth of performance we see from both the family fighting for their lives, and the doppelgängers fighting for… something else. Lupita Nyong’o is practically scene-stealing from herself in each scene, causing audiences’ eyes to ping pong across the screen, trying to figure out whether Adelaide or Doppelganger Red deserves the most attention. Shahadi Wright Joseph’s portrayal of Zora’s Doppelganger Umbrae is the creepiest of the bunch, with her slicked back hair, unblinking stare, and Cheshire grin. And don’t get me started on that nimbleness. “She disappeared again? Oh Good.” And, while Elisabeth Moss’ Kitty had the depth of a kiddie pool (intentionally so), her doppelgänger Dahlia served us the most twisted “Bye, Bye Birdie” ever put to screen (this is a reference for Mad Men nerds, I apologize). Heck, the whole Tyler family, with the catapulting twins and the grunting Tex, would not good neighbours make.
“Lupita Nyong’o is practically scene-stealing from herself in each scene, causing audiences’ eyes to ping pong across the screen, trying to figure out whether Adelaide or Doppelganger Red deserves the most attention.”
But while I was enthralled with the characters, I couldn’t help but feel let down by the film’s winding pace. The plot itself is laid out for you in the trailer. Family vs. dark and twisted version of themselves. And that is exactly what Us is. It’s a home invasion with an unlikely monster. And while we do get the opportunity later in the film to explore the depth of the doppelgängers and get a taste of the mystery, we’re so deep into the film that I’m almost sighing to be pulled aboard the “I like this” train so late into the game. I spent a lot of time appreciating the acting with my fingers crossed that the story would loop ’round and come pick me up.
And though it wasn’t the showstopper I was wishing it to be, Us solidifies Peele as a defining voice in our genre. Throughout interviews, press junkets, and the very film itself, Peele has peppered his love and appreciation for the genre. We’re lucky to have him, eager for more, and I’m sorry other genres – you aren’t getting him back.