Picture this: I’m on my way out of the movie theater after a screening of Us. I go to the bathroom to wash off my popcorn-buttered hands. I purposely avoid my own eyes in the mirror. Why, you ask? Because Us has put me off of mirrors for at least a month. Thanks a lot, Jordan Peele.
But actually in all seriousness, thank you, Jordan Peele. Thank you for being a huge part of the recent American horror renaissance. Thank you for making horror films with exceptional intelligence, pacing, and craft. And thank you for not repeating yourself.
Us is not Get Out. I don’t mean that as an assessment of its overall quality. I mean that in terms of thematic material and message, the two films have very little room to be more different. Whereas Get Out wears its message on its sleeve, Us is much more ambiguous. It’s also much more of a pure horror film in that sense — the social commentary arrives in splashes, not waves.
Lupita Nyong’o gives a sensational double performance as Adelaide and Red, her malicious mirror image. Adelaide and her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) aren’t quite seeing eye-to-eye on their family beach vacation. She has some lingering memories of a disturbing event from her childhood, which occurred on the pier Gabe wants to visit.
When Adelaide is reticent to share this past experience with her husband, I was reminded of other recent horror films which address Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, such as It Follows and It Comes at Night. Although PTSD is not necessarily this film’s focus, I found it significant that Adelaide’s memory and how she felt about it were key plot functions.
Soon after she tells Gabe her story, a family of four that look exactly like our protagonists appears in their driveway. After a struggle, the ‘real’ family is subdued, and Red lays out the ‘second’ family’s plan to Adelaide.
Red is quite an amazing creation by both Peele and Nyong’o. Her speech is croaky, stilted, almost as if she’s learning the words as she utters them. In the uncomfortable stillness he allows both characters to sit in, Peele creates a world in which we don’t know which end is up, and that unease heightens when we discover more doppelgängers of other people.
As the evening starts to unravel into dawn, the family is dragged into a world of strange ritual and even stranger backstory. The climax of this film is monumentally impressive: impeccably choreographed, filmed, and edited to keep you on your toes even after the big reveals.
Us has been criticized for having somewhat of a ’non-ending.’ But I’m kind of a sucker for ambiguous endings. I love films that stick with me; that leave me mulling and musing for days. Although I’m still terrified of mirrors, thanks again, Jordan Peele, for crafting a truly unique horror experience that I will cherish for years to come.