Us

Directed by Jordan Peele Publishing House: Universal Pictures Released: 03.22.19 Review by | March 21, 2019 at 12:30 PM
8

Basically: Watch yourself (because you’ve done wrong).

You need a little time to reflect on Us after seeing it. That theme of reflection relates to mirrored images because when you’re dealing with a true doppelgänger—not just a twin but a malignant version of yourself—where can you run? Wherever you’ve been they’ve been there and wherever you go they’ll be there too. That’s the horrifying aspect of Jordan Peele’s latest frightener: You can’t escape from yourself (or even a reflection of you).

Us is the story of a family on vacation who is stalked by monstrous clones of themselves. They wear red jumpsuits, they carry golden shears. If you’re not already freaked out you will be. At the center of the story is Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o). She’s the catalyst. We learn that in a flashback to 1986 when little Adelaide was momentarily lost in a funhouse of mirrors. The thing is, one of her reflections didn’t move the way she moved. Smash cut to months later and Adelaide still can’t speak.

Her psychologist diagnoses the little girl with PTSD, due to the unspoken trauma of the incident. Adelaide grows out of it. She meets the lovable but goofy Gabe Wilson (Winston Duke*) and they have two kids, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex). It’s all such perfection. Gabe even went to Howard, so you know he’s a prince (#truth).

Photo by Claudette Barius - © Universal Pictures

But, friends, when you hear that eerie (screwed) version of “I Got 5 On It” by Luniz feat. Michael Marshall, you’ll know things ain’t right. When you remember that song samples another classic, “Why You Treat Me So Bad” by Club Nouveau, you’ll know things are dead wrong. That’s because Adelaide and her doppelgänger still have a connection—call it a “tether”—and it remains unbroken. So when their personal monsters (The Tethered) come out to make the final cut, what can The Wilson Family do? I am quite serious when I tell you: Ride or die.

Us has the mechanics of a zombie flick. Not just in the concept of humankind turning against itself but also in the ways it dissects social structure. Without spoiling anything I can tell you, underneath the bloody pulse of this movie, Peele is speaking to the ways classism, apathy, and supremacy shred a society. He wants us to reflect on how the dispossessed can come back to haunt the disposers.

Yeah, that’s heavy but Peele also wants us to have a good time. Us is as funny as it is dark. Be prepared for as many shocks of laughter as jump scares. Nyong’o plays twin alter egos, Adelaide and Red. They are a black magic tango of ferocity and will power. She’s dope, truly. While Duke’s alternates, Gabe and Abraham, are a gigglefest that gives your heartbeat a moment to slow down. The two younger actors live up to the work of their onscreen parents. Both do amazing things with body language, nonverbal sounds, facial cues, and pure presence. Not only can you see the differences between Zora and Jason and their doppelgängers, you can feel it.

Photo by Claudette Barius - © Universal Pictures

And if you’re not a horror fan you don’t have to worry. Neither am I. Us spans the genres of horror, paranormal, psychological thriller, but none of those sum it up. This is a blood soaked fable with white rabbits you can’t help but follow all the way down—and it’s a thrilling way to fall.

Peele excels at the type of shocks and sleight of hand reversals that Hitchcock and Serling would cheer for. Yet he does it his way, and his way is so very good. For Peele, the scares that lie beneath the glossy veneer of middle class American is the horror within us. He even makes that point with his musical choices. While everyone was focusing on the symbolism of what “five on it” meant, this movie goes to the unseen heart of that song and asks: Why you treat Us so bad?

And when we considered all the ways we mistreat each other and all the movies Peele has yet to make, that’s a terrifying question.

In the End: See Us for the thrills (the wake up call is a gift with purchase).

* He so fine.