Us is a proof that Jordan Peele’s such a storyteller. It’s like what Winston Duke’s character said: “a fucked-up performance art.”
After the highly inventive Get Out won Jordan Peele an Oscar in screenplay, the comedian-turned-director presents another high-concept horror, which once again brings out a truly cinematic experience, called Us. The new horror shares similar DNA as Get Out; but it’s not a follow-up, nor an expansion; it’s more like a soul sister lurking mysteriously from the dark to take audiences by surprise at a completely different manner as in Peele’s directorial debut.
In the heart of Us, there’s Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o, irresistibly good), wife to Gabe (Winston Duke) and mother to Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex). As a kid back in the 1986 at Santa Cruz Beach, Adelaide encountered a traumatizing horror in a hall of mirrors, where she found her doppelgänger. She barely overcomes the trauma, which apparently still lingers on her even when she’s grown into a full adult; especially when she finally has to return to the crime scene, where the family had a family getaway with the family’s friends, The Tylers. While the family’s resting at the vacation home after an incident in Santa Cruz, a series of harrowing coincidences and parade of allusions to Jeremiah 11:11 verse lead to a ruthless home-invasion by enigmatic people dressed in red who armed themselves with scissors. More enigmatically, the trespassers are no other than the family’s doppelgängers.
Similar as Get Out, Us also works on multitude of layers, where the surface is a narrative-heavy horror. Beyond the surface, Us explores a handful of subtext, which needs serious understanding of the contexts of certain elements in the movie. And yet, even ones proficient with the subtext will find different interpretation of the movie; and, so, each re-watch might probe different insights. I personally did my small research on bizarre elements of Us and found myself amazed with how personal (or collective) experience of Jordan Peele helps crafting the myth of Us. In the following paragraph, I will put some links to articles that helped me picturing Us in my first interpretation (or probably second, as the first is the brilliant horror itself).
From the elusive ‘Hands Across America‘—which sparked controversy in the country’s hypocrisy and, apparently, duality; the underground society, which immediately brings in the myth of Underground Railroad, which is said to endorse slave’s escape during the slavery era; the government-controlled society (referenced in Zora’s quip about water fluoridation); to the futility in Jeremiah 11:11, which basically makes the surface theme of the movie; all of them crafts a grander story than what Us is projected initially. Given all the subtext, Us seems to work as a satire to how the government has treated the society. However, even without all the subtext, Us is still a terrifying horror with (as the subtexts are stripped off) a handful of bizarre imagery orchestrating what Winston Duke’s character called as ‘a fucked-up performance art’ that might become iconic in years to come.
The idea of home-invasion by doppelgängers has created a self-sustaining horror—not an instant shuddering one, but this one is definitely haunting. At the surface, Us sounds like a facing-your-own-demon horror in a barely original but inventive take. It keeps challenging us to guess what event might happen in the next minute. It’s a jigsaw puzzle which needs to be solved pieces by pieces but the grand picture is as surreal as the pieces. In aiding his rich script, Peele also showcases his prowess in mise-en-scene; he knows which angle works perfectly to create the iconic images, knows where to put all the edges, and knows how to create an eerie settings even in the hottest, broad daylight where people are gathered (that’s why Evan Alex’s character is wearing Jaws t-shirt on the beach scene). With additional harrowing force from Michael Abels’ disconcerting scores, Us is that horror you worry about.
Note that the final scene in Us does not diminish nor boost it from being a horror tour de force. The whole movie is a proof that Jordan Peele is a natural-born storyteller; it’s also a proof that horror can be a storytelling medium. It demands multiple revisits, even when each visit might leave different impressions or interpretations.