Years after a traumatic event during her childhood, Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) returns to Santa Cruz for a family vacation. During their holiday, she, her husband and their two children are terrorised by a group of doppelgängers.
Jordan Peele surprised the world with his directorial debut, 2017’s Get Out which dealt with the issue of racism deep seeded in America. With Us, he proves this was no fluke as he uses multiple themes and subtle messages to explore what it is to be human in this horrific tale.
Doppelgänger movies are nothing new, having been done in different ways with recent examples including Christopher Nolan’s Prestige and Richard Ayoade’s The Double, both of which had one person duplicated. This time Peele ramps it up a notch by including an entire family of doubles who terrorise their vacationing counterparts. Beginning with a young Adelaide (Madison Curry) in 1986 who wanders off from her parents at a carnival, she encounters a horror which she carries with her decades later. As the film jumps ahead in time to the present day, we’re shown a fairly typical family who laugh, fight and disagree as many would. An excellent scene in which they establish the four comes early as they sit around a dinner table discussing various aspects of their lives.
It’s the final sense of normality as the film becomes a house invasion following their son Jason’s (Evan Alex) creepy encounter on the beach. The copies show up on their driveway and just stand there for a while. It’s not until Gabe’s (Winston Duke) attempt to engage with them that they start to close in. “If you want to get crazy, we can get crazy”. Lest does he know just how crazy it’s about to get. After this, they are all subjected to their individual doppelgängers in various ways and whilst there are distinct similarities, there are also considerable differences to easily tell them apart. Gabe’s comes across as a much larger and taller force to reckon with, Zora’s (Shahadi Wright Joseph) has an abnormal and feral way about her, Jason’s, like the real one, wears a mask and Adelaide’s sadistic laugh will keep you on the edge of your seat.
As he builds up the tension and creates moments of intense fear, Peele uses his comedic talents to maneuver genuine moments that relieve the tension. As the family is initially held hostage Gabe offers them a used and beat up boat he recently bought at which point Zora chinrs in with “Dad, no one wants the boat!” It’s a perfect depiction of the family dynamic even in such a difficult situation. Another scene in which they argue who is going to drive will make you laugh as much as it’ll make you want to scream at them to just get out of there. These comedic moments consistently hit the spot especially when it comes to dad-bod / dad joke extraordinaire Gabe who is the epitome of the embarrassing father. Moments which are levied with horror but a brief segment of comic relief never feel like a jarring tonal shift as they can in some films, it’s Peele’s sense of comic timing and understand each scene he’s trying to craft.
Peele never wastes a needle drop, using some superb tracks to keep that feeling of dread or in one scene in which the juxtaposing visuals and music sync up perfectly. It’s a testament to what he can do with sound as he uses the silence just as well as using music. With excellent supporting performances from Elizabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker as the constantly arguing married couple, it’s Nyong’o who shines as she delved deep to create two completely different characters who have a considerable amount in common. As a mother and wife and she’s caring, fierce and determined. As a copy she’s brutal, terrifying and shocking. Creating such disparate depictions with both of their mannerisms, facial expressions and a laugh which will chill you to the bone makes this film worth watching.
An astounding second film from Jordan Peele whose writing and direction show what a smart horror film can look. His subtle and not so subtle comments on the over arching narrative will keep this film in your heard for weeks to come.
5 out of 5.
Keep. It. Reel.