Horror at it’s best and most profound is when it takes deep lurking insecurity within nearly everyone and fully realizes it through its images, colors, sounds and scenarios. In 2017, Jordan Peele made one of the greatest cinematic debut with Get Out, confident in its theme, refined in its layout and masterful in execution. Now he comes with his follow-up Us, about another base fear and brings his unique and refined vision to the table.
Our tale opens years ago, in the eighties. A little girl named Adelaide is on vacation with her parents, they are in Santa Cruz on the beach and enjoying the boardwalk, she wanders around and looks at the people and the rides, her mother goes to the bathroom and her father plays a shooting game and doesn’t pay her much attention so she wanders off by herself. She wanders through the boardwalk, to the beach and then into a hall of mirrors, inside she wanders and realizes she’s lost, she goes for the exit but it is a mirror, she wanders and wanders and then has her back to a mirror, only it isn’t a mirror because it turns and faces her. There is another girl, that looks just like her, but is not her.
Cut then to years later and, we are in the present day and Adelaide has grown up and is married with children. Her husband Gabe (Winston Duke), daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and son Jason (Evan Alex). They are going on one of their family vacations, to the same beach from that night long ago, whatever happened there has clearly caused her great trauma and is none too interested in going back. They meet their “friends” the Tylers, Kitty (Elizabeth Moss) and Josh (Tim Heidecker) along with their twin girls.
One night while she recounts the night in the hall of mirrors to Gabe, Jason comes in and says “There’s a family standing in our driveway.” They go to take a look and sure enough, there is, holding hands and just standing. Husband tries to go out and start a conversation then tries intimidating them but Adeline has a gut feeling that they mean harm and indeed they do. One forces his way through the door and the others scurry around back, they all gather in the living room with the fireplace on and in the light they can see the intruders, they are them.
they have doublegangers, that look just like them but some are slightly
different and wear red jumpsuits, have one gloved hand and all carry
their own pair of uniquely shaped scissors. What do they want? To kill
them and take their lives for their own. Not the most complex motivation
but certainly a scary one.
There is very little fat in this script. Peele constructs his scripts meticulously and efficiently, years working as the comedy duo Key & Peele definitely gave him a talent for efficient and clear writing. Almost no element of what is introduced or said goes to waste, if a character has a hobby or a bad habit then it will come into play in some way later in the movie.
movies biggest success and biggest accomplishment is Lupita Nyong’o and
her performance as Adelaide. All the actors have to portray one
character and their double which are all brilliantly competent at.
Playing a regular person but then playing that person again, but moving
and reacting in an off way, which is fantastical mime acting. But
Nyong’o is able to take all these intense and subtle emotions that her
characters to go through and unifies them into her character, as well as
that she plays a twisted, disturbing presence that will most likely be
imitated for year to come, which her disturbing way of speaking by
breathing in and wide eyes that stare and never seem to blink and her
all too efficient way of walking that screams “Not right!” It is a
performance that would be great with just one of these characters, by
playing both it is a triumph.
In a horror movie,
the characters need to be afraid and convey that. If the characters
aren’t talking something seriously then we won’t. In an action movie,
you can have the hero blast monsters and face dire circumstances with a
stern look on their face throughout, but if the characters are faced
with something unnerving and are unfazed by it then we won’t engage with
it. These people are afraid but more than that they portray many facets
of fear. However, even with that, these are not just people that are
afraid throughout the movie, there are also a few laughs to be had.
Peele reunites with conductor Michael Abels to create another deep, memorable, unnerving score. Like with the last one he uses voice to invoke a deep, almost spiritual feeling within the movie but they are also singers that sing high pitched and in unison, this adds to the theme of double and the high pitched matches the strings which are sharp and shrieking, reminding us of both a scream and stabbing. Adding to the tension he will sometimes have one note continue on for too long, like a whistling kettle, giving the feeling of high pressure.
Throughout this movie, I was feeling everything the filmmaker wanted me to feel while watching it. While the family were bantering and was laughing when there’s a tense moment I was watching attentively and was horrified and stimulated when the moments of fright were playing out. The only weak link is the ending which makes sense poetically, but not logically, I usually wouldn’t hold that against the movie but this was the one time I was thinking “Wait, that doesn’t make any sense.”
Bad horror is a cray loud guy with a hatchet. Great horror is surgen with a scalpel, knowing exactly where to cut and doing so with precision. Jordan Peele is a surgeon that cuts deep, efficiently and leaves us bleeding long afterward.