In the eyes of many industry insiders and film critics, Jordan Peele is the next Alfred Hitchcock or perhaps even Stanley Kubrick. These comparisons may feel a bit early, but after watching his masterfully crafted follow up to the Oscar winning ‘Get Out’, I can see why they might think such a thing. ‘Us’ feels unique and special from the very first sequence of the film. Peele directs the film with a steady hand and holds each shot on each face or angle for just the right amount of time to induce a steady feeling of dread.
In the films opening sequence, set in 1986, little more happens than a walk around an amusement park and into a funhouse. Yet, the use of color contrast, a wide angle lens, sound, and pacing, create a scene that is quite unforgettable. He makes you feel the moment, but also experience the fear of what could always lie in the next moment of life when you are attuned to your surroundings and aware of potential threats. He subverts expectation consistently throughout this film. While also delivering something that somehow feels accessible and mainstream.
The narrative bounces back to 1986 a few times for clarity, but it mostly takes place in present day and revolves around the events of a vacation that leads into pure horror on a larger scale than you might imagine. The family at the center of the story is the Wilson family and they first seem like a pretty normal upper middle class or perhaps lower rich class family. Lupita N’yongo and Winston Duke play the parents. Shahadi Joseph and Evan Alex play their kids. However, the story truly belongs to N’yongo and her actions are a big part of what shape the bigger picture. A picture that starts to become highly suspenseful when the doppelgängers of the family show up to wreak havoc.
The story may involve monstrous body doubles that have a murderous plan, but the whole thing comes off as metaphorical for something more important. In his own way, Peele is tackling race, class, individualism, oppression, and even the lighter and darker nature of human beings. Yet, he manages to do this without ever sacrificing the intense suspense that comes once the doppelgängers, or tethered as they call themselves, begin to chase down the protagonists. Many will leave the theater thinking about the metaphors and others will just be smiling from having had a great trip into a world of horrors.
Either way, people will be talking about N’yongo and her unforgettable performance. She expresses pain, fear, remorse, suffering, and strength in equal measure as Adelaide Wilson, but it’s her tethered alter ego that gets all the best lines. And in the performance as Red, N’yongo truly stretches her wings and creates a unique character. Everything from the voice to the look is completely unrecognizable as N’yongo and her movements are often downright frightening. I really hope she is remembered come Oscar season next year.
While this film might not have the original script that ‘Get Out’ had, it makes up for it with style and a clever concept. It is littered with messages that can be freely interpreted or simply ignored. It can leave you something deep to ponder or something frightening to laugh about. The bottom lines is that this is an exceptional piece of work and should stand the test of time.