Jordan Peele’s “Us” is a Must See

After I got home from watching “Us,” I was physically exhausted from being petrified for two hours and even more terrified that I was now home alone. “Us” is Jordan Peele’s second feature since his 2017 release, “Get Out” and it is terrifying and thoughtful. But, instead of the same simple story that packs a big and easily understood punch, Peele has aimed for a movie that is elevated in almost every way: story, filming, larger message and it unfortunately leads to a film with an unclear direction.

“Us” follows a family who is confronted by their doppelgangers, nicknamed the Tethered, whilst vacationing at their summer home in Santa Cruz. Structured like a home invasion horror film, the movie’s pace is unrelenting and manages to remain terrifying from the first scene to the last.

Much of the movie’s horror and pacing is maintained by its incredible cast, Lupita Nyong’o in particular. Nyong’o impeccably plays both Adelaide Thomas and her doppelganger, Red, and finds ways to inhabit these characters in two entirely different ways. The former speaks with a lilting grace and moves much the same, speaking to her background as a dancer. She’s warm and caring and undeniably normal. The latter, on the other hand, has a gravelly and hoarse voice and moves in sharp and inhuman actions. With eyebrows erased by makeup, her eyes are made impossibly, chillingly, huge and she is all predator. Nyong’o’s abilities and dedication to her roles as well as the entire ensemble cast (especially the youngest son, played by Evan Alex) to theirs bring the film to life and made me believe one of my doppelgangers would knock on my window when I went home.

And this believability is crucial for “Us”’s success and why Peele is so good at horror. He understands that to make something truly chilling, it must be based in reality. A story about a spirit possessing a little girl can be frightening in the moment but it doesn’t stick, it doesn’t make you keep thinking about it days after seeing the film. In “Us,” Peel actualizes the universal fears of betraying oneself, or having someone close to you turn their back on you in the Tethered and he bases their existence on the real and peculiar system of abandoned tunnels in the United States. The focal point of the film is based in reality and that makes it easier to buy into and believe. And even a minuscule belief that the Tethered could exist makes the film that much scarier.

Moreover, everything in this film was skillfully chosen, from the red suits to the inexplicably terrifying gold scissors. The filmmaking is just as spectacular. Peele gives the audience enough of each character for them to understand and see who they are: their behavior, their desires, even the way they move. Each shot is also clearly chosen, whether it be a tight frame on Nyong’o’s unblinking face or a wide of these parallel families in their living room, so alike and yet diametrically opposed.

However, it’s clear Peele tried to do much more with his sophomore feature than with his first. But with too complicated of a plot, many scenes were dragged on for long blocks of explanation, the grand plan for the Tethered seemed odd more than anything else, and a surprise twist, though wonderfully executed, had no clear necessity for the story.

This is much the same story for what exactly may have been Peele’s goal with this film. There are plenty of theories, “Us” appearing the same as U.S., a tale of the underprivileged reclaiming what should’ve been theirs, the inherent falseness of human beings, the dark truth hiding beneath a normal facade. There is evidence for each of these theories but none that fit quite right. It seems as though Peele tried to shove in too many easter eggs, tried to make too many points, and the result was too complicated to be a clear and powerful statement and instead just a mishmash of things.

But despite this, the two hours of film pass by in the blink of an eye. Bottomline, Peele knows how to tell a story and he knows how to keep people interested. There’s enough for “Us” to just be a really good horror movie but there’s also enough substance there to delve into, uncover and unravel. And that is why he and his movies are so good. He produces a kind of high quality filmmaking that’s so often only reserved for small features and film critics but is instead intended for general consumption by a general audience. You can go and just have a good time being scared or dissect each scene and breath taken. And no matter what route you choose, it makes you think. And that’s what filmmaking should be.