Following his hit debut Get Out, comedian-turned-director Jordan Peele returns with his ambitious second feature Us.
The film opens with a young Adelaide Wilson (Madison Curry), drenched in a Thriller t-shirt, wandering off from her parents at a Santa Cruz beach fairground. Upon entering a hall of mirrors, a chilling truth appears in Adelaide’s reflection, a revelation that will haunt her future.
A number of years later, we’re introduced to the adult Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) as she returns to her childhood beachfront house. Accompanied by her lovable husband Gabe (Winston Duke), defiant teenage daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and nervous son Jason (Evan Alex). As Adelaide’s past trauma resurfaces she pleads to leave, but soon after her family are confronted by menacing silhouettes on their driveway. What begins as a typical home-invasion takes a sinister turn once the Wilsons realise the intruders are their mirror image.
The doppelgängers could be straight out of Twin Peaks’ Black Lodge with their unnerving, distorted speech and bizarre, jolty movements. Similarly representing duality, a theme David Lynch explored throughout the series but most heavily in 2017’s The Return, with Kyle MacLachlan’s good and evil Cooper. The ongoing battle with the darkness within us all and our innate ability to self-destruct also manifested itself in look-alikes in Alex Garland’s thought-provoking Annihilation.
As we fall further down the rabbit hole, the doppelgängers’ origins and intentions unravel and a multitude of meanings can be unearthed. From the underclass longing for their day in the sun, in place of their privileged counterparts and showcasing the myth of the American dream, bringing a double meaning to the film’s title.
2017’s Get Out certainly descended into horror, but Us feels like a full-blooded horror film from the get-go. Scruffy, biblical figures evoke John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness and Carpenter-inspired It Follows cinematographer Mike Gioulakis ominously frames each scene. Comedian Peele does interject some comedy though, most of which hits, to allow some breathing space. Returning composer Michael Abels compliments the fluctuating tone with another unsettling score, with additions including an eerily effective remix of Luniz’s I Got 5 on It as well as an amusing, accidental song request.
While I found Get Out’s incredibly well-paced build ultimately didn’t pay off, petering out past its twist that felt heavy-handed when compared to the film’s psychological foundations. Us is far richer and remains gripping to the very end, despite the cat being out of the bag. Helped in no small part by the myriad of interpretations that can be drawn from the film, the many satisfying payoffs to be appreciated and minute details that warrant further viewings.
Although elements of Us’ plot may fall apart under scrutiny, Peele’s appetite to create original work outweighs this and is to be celebrated. As was the case with his debut, his ability to mould authentic, lived-in characters also shines through. A gifted cast once again elevates Peele’s work and are so fiercely watchable they disguise potential flaws. While Daniel Kaluuya’s sheer likability drove home Get Out, Lupita Nyong’o is nothing short of phenomenal as she vigorously attacks her dual role.
While Get Out is an undeniably impressive debut, Jordan Peele’s growth as a film-maker is evident with his sharper, but just as twisted second entry Us.