Being a part-time film critic and full-time cinema snob (okay, not really, I still think Rob Zombie is one of the best directors I’ve ever seen), it can be hard to disengage the critical film-theory part of my brain and just get absorbed by a movie. But, just once in a while, a film comes along that grabs you by the lapels and drags you in head-first, whether you like it or not. And, for me, Jordan Peele’s Us is that kind of movie.
Following Adelaide Thomas (Lupita N’yongo) and her husband Gabe (Winston Duke, everyone’s favourite vegetarian) as they take their two children on a trip to their beach house near Santa Cruz – only to find themselves swiftly the victims of a viscous group of doppelgangers, led by Red, Adelaide’s murderous double, who seem intent on offing the family for good.
And, you know, that’s a really solid foundation upon which to build your horror movie: in this era of so-called “post-modern” horror (amongst which Peele’s own debut Get Out is often cited as one of the foremost example), taking the home invasion premise and pushing it to the very invasion of identity itself fits right in with this current crop of acclaimed frightfests. Add to that, too, prestige actors like N’yongo and Elisabeth Moss, riding high after her astonishing turn in The Handmaid’s Tale, and I already knew that this was going to be a good film.
And it sure is: those first couple of acts, surrounding the terror of the twinned versions of the cast coming after them, is a great example of just how unsettling the stalk-and-slash tropes can be when they’re used correctly. The way the film depicts the doubles, as creatures who’ve learned the movements and sounds and expressions of humans without understanding the impulses that give them meaning, is profoundly unsettling. Peele, with a storied background in comedy, can switch between laughs and scares without losing the impact of either, and his slow builds to sharp pay-offs (literally) work wonders in delivering on jumpscares that feel earned instead of laboured. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard people shrieking in the cinema around me, and I’m not ashamed to say that those shrieks were coming from me more than once.
But Peele exhausts that premise by the end of the second act, and it’s what follows that turns Us into one of the most singularly brilliant horror films of the decade so far. This is right where the film just launches itself at you and doesn’t let go – I don’t want to give too much away about this section of the movie, but it’s within this half-hour that Peele lands himself firmly in horror-auteur territory. Get Out is a fantastic movie, but it’s just one film – Us is a consolidation of his enormous talent, a nightmarish and instantly-memorable blend of Lynch and Carpenter and something that’s undeniably and utterly him. Matched with N’yongo’s astonishing lead performance(s), this third act is one of the best bits of horror filmmaking I think I’ve ever seen. And, you know, I’ve seen every single Final Destination movie, so…
I probably don’t need to tell you that Us is a brilliant film. Every review out there, rightly, has been hailing it: for the scares, for the humour, for the artistry, the performances, everything. But I will tell you this – every single one of those reviews is damn right. The first thing I thought when the credits rolled was what exactly Jordan Peele’s next film was going to look like, and how excited I already am to see it. And that should tell you everything you need to know about just how great this movie is.
By Louise MacGregor
(header image via The New York Times)