It couldn’t have been easy to follow up Get Out, arguably the best horror film of 2017, with another horror film. Expectations are mighty high and all eyes are on director Jordan Peele, so it is relieving to say that Peele has delivered yet another excellent horror film with Us. Peele’s second feature is a more straightforward horror film than its predecessor, featuring a powerhouse performance from Lupita Nyong’O and a script that beautifully merges horror and comedy. Save for some familiar plot beats, Us proves that Peele is not a one-trick pony and can excellently craft a scare (or twenty).
Us stars Lupita Nyong’o (Black Panther, 12 Years a Slave) as Adelaide Wilson, a woman returning to her beachside childhood home with her husband Gabe (Winston Duke, Black Panther) and their children Zora and Jason (Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex, respectively) for a summer getaway. Haunted by an unexplainable trauma from her past and compounded by a string of eerie coincidences, Adelaide grows increasingly certain that something bad is going to befall her family. After a day at the beach with Kitty (Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men, The Handmaid’s Tale) and Josh (Tim Heidecker), the Wilsons return to their vacation home to discover the silhouettes of four figures standing in their driveway. Those figures turn out to be doppelgängers of themselves, and the Wilsons begin a fight for survival that will put their familial bond to the test.
Let’s just get this out of the way first: Us is very, very good. If you were worried that Peele would suffer a sophomore slump, put your fears to rest. While not quite as layered with social commentary as Get Out was, there are plenty of things Peele is trying to say with this film (it’s no coincidence that the title can double as U.S., after all). Peele has stated that sometimes the monsters we fear most are ourselves. The film takes that statement literally, but the metaphor is clearly there. Is Us as good as Get Out? Not really, but why compare the two? Taken on its own terms, Us is without a doubt the best horror film 2019 has seen yet.
All of the performances are excellent, but the film belongs to Nyong’O, who delivers an outstanding dual performance as Adelaide and her doppelgänger (the latter of which is deliciously creepy). She is tasked with playing every emotion you can think of, and pulls it off wonderfully. Her performance is exceptional and if there were any justice in the world she would be nominated for an Oscar next year (don’t hold your breath, though). Duke imbues Gabe with such charm that you’ll be rooting for him every time he’s on screen. Joseph and Alex also turn in strong performances as the Wilson children, with Joseph getting some of the film’s most disturbing moments (the eyes on that girl are simply terrifying). Moss, with her limited screen time, makes a case for putting her in as many horror films as possible. Without spoiling, let’s just say she plays against type very well. Hell, even Heidecker gives a great performance, and I’ve never particularly cared for his brand of humor on Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!
Peele solidifies his status as a great horror director with Us. While the film does feature a hefty dose of comedy (mostly from Duke), make no mistake that this is a horror movie. The home invasion sequences are some of the tensest you’ll ever see. Not since The Strangers has film of this type (to use a cliché phrase) kept me on the edge of my seat for so long; though Us does get a leg up on The Strangers by having its characters make smart decisions in times of crisis. Peele shoots these scenes with an understated confidence, allowing things to play out naturally on screen without an overabundance of editing. The film takes “I Spy” approach to its scares, asking the audience to survey the frame for things that might be amiss. It works marvelously. There was actually a moment that made me scream out loud. Not many films can do that.
Us also marks the second effort for composer Michael Abels, and holy moly is his score a thing of beauty. From song selection to his original pieces of score, the music in Us is undoubtedly one of the film’s strongest assets (and yes, the remix of Luniz’s “I Got 5 On It” used in the film’s trailer is prominently featured in the film). In one of the film’s more disturbing set pieces, a character asks their Alexa-type device to call the police and it winds up playing N.W.A.’s “Fuck Tha Police” instead. Juxtaposed with the carnage happening on screen, it’s simultaneously hilarious and terrifying.
This isn’t to say that Us is a perfect film. Peele’s screenplay is strong but errs on the side of predictability. There aren’t too many surprises, with most things playing out exactly as you’d expect. Peele holds on to one particular revelation for far too long so by the time it is revealed you will have long since figured it out. This isn’t a film that spoon-feeds its audience, either. While there is some clunky exposition relegated to the third act, Peele opts not to give many answers to the “how” question(s) you’ll undoubtedly be asking. This isn’t necessarily a criticism, but it might make or break the film for some viewers. I’m also not certain that the rules of the doppelgängers are set in stone, but it may be made clearer on a second viewing.
Us is a superb sophomore outing for Peele. Blending humor and scares with some amazing actors and fantastically tense home invasion set pieces, it comes strongly recommended. There is no word yet on whether Peele plans on staying in the horror genre for his third feature, but after Us it’s safe to say that he should. He is too valuable a filmmaker for the genre.
Us premiered at the SXSW Film Festival on March 8, 2019. Universal Pictures will release the film nationwide on March 22, 2019.