Us is a 2019 horror film written and directed by Jordan Peele. As a child, Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) had a traumatic experience after wandering off from her parents at a boardwalk carnival. Wandering into a house of mirrors, where the power cuts out, she encounters another little girl who appears to be her exact double. Years later, still haunted by her childhood experience, Adelaide, her husband, and her two kids take a summer vacation to Adelaide’s family home in Santa Cruz, California, where she first had her harrowing experience. Their vacation is fraught with tension, but takes a turn for the horrifying when they are besieged by their doppelgangers, who suddenly outside their door in the middle of the night.
I knew very little about this film going in, which excited me. I was aware that it was Jordan Peele’s newest picture and that it involved doppelgangers, but other than that I had avoided trailers so I didn’t quite know what to expect. The first act or so of this film I found exceptionally effective. Peele continues to showcase his talents as a filmmaker, and I adored how laced with discomfort and suspense every scene in this phase was without much out of the ordinary having really happened yet. Whether it be the palpable strife between Adelaide’s parents when she was a child or the mounting sense that something isn’t right in the present day, Peele sets the mood really well. No scene felt wasted either, as even the most mundane interactions between family members at this early point have some sort of payoff later on.
Despite the creeping tension, the dynamic between Adelaide and her family feels wonderfully natural and even wholesome. Her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) is affable and eager to keep his family in high spirits, teenage daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) is a little aloof but not cold or unkind, and younger son Jason (Evan Alex) is a bit of an oddball but still gels well with his family. For her part, Adelaide is troubled and a little wound up, but unquestionably loving and protective. This all came across gradually through very naturalistic writing and performances from all of the actors, making it easy to become attached to each of them, and in turn anxious for their wellbeing.
Though the initial arrival of their doppelgangers was effectively unsettling, things took a bit of a turn for me as events slowly played out in the familiar vain of the home invasion genre. I was intrigued, yet could not help but wonder to myself “is this it?” as time went on. Fortunately, the answer to that question was a resounding no. I will withhold further information for those yet to see it, but just as the film was starting to lose me a little there were some great twists that gripped me completely and my misgivings did not return.
The mystery to what is truly going on is deliciously teased throughout, leading to a reveal that is wonderfully outlandish and bizarre. At one point it does edge a little too far toward explaining too much, though not even close to the point that it would fall apart. I’d say that’s my only real gripe with the film. Just a little too much gets explained, making it more difficult for me to suspend my disbelief. Trying to break it down logically with what you’re given will only lead to nonsense, but ultimately I really appreciate a horror film that’s not afraid to get weird with its story. People often get too hung up on things making bulletproof sense in films, when it’s a medium that can do so much more than that, as is showcased here.
Us is simply a great horror film that is exceptionally performed by its actors and well crafted by its writer/director, faltering only somewhat in how it builds out its premise once all is said and done. I especially loved how Lupita Noyong’o brought such drastically different performances to Adelaide and her double Red. The contrast worked really well. Peele’s films so far feel like episodes of the Twilight Zone incarnated into feature films, and if that sounds appealing to you then I implore you to check this film out.
Images source here.