Jordan Peele’s second picture roars it’s way into the box office this weekend, and amid the well-deserved hype, an interesting and eerie portrayal of human existence creeps in amongst the scares.
As the heat beats down on America the Wilson family return to a family lake house for the summer, and to the beach where thirty years ago the matriarch Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) was separated from her parents. With the experience still haunting her, the rest of the family are excited to start their holiday and relax in the sun – her husband Gabe (Winston Duke), recent purchaser of a much maligned boat, daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and son Jason (Evan Alex) aren’t away of the feelings that still linger around Santa Cruz beach.
As day turns to night, a familiar looking family arrive in their driveway and the Wilson’s discover that the events of thirty years ago have allowed the darker forces of the world to come of the surface.
Us is more distilled horror than Get Out – which was much more psychologically terrifying that classically ‘jump’ fright horror – something that Peele manages to keep constantly evolving throughout the film’s two hour run time. Without relying heavily on the overuse of sound, there is a underlying fear that drenched into the sun-soaked beaches and the beautiful old wooden lake-house views, that makes even a picturesque lake feel like it holds a danger waiting to unfurl.
Playing doppelgangers without it ever turning overly mawkish or ‘actorly’ is a fine line to tread, and the central cast do it perfectly. Leading the pact is Nyong’o, whose physicality and talent come to the fore – with a tilt of the head, or a wide eyed glare, Red – the dark version of Adelaide – presents as a being so far removed from reality that it is hard to remember that these two women are played by the same women.
Duke is brilliant as Gabe, playing up his ‘goofy’ side as a suburban dad who just wanted to buy a boat and have a nice holiday, but who quickly adapts to killing his own clone in the scariest water scene since Jaws. Wright Joseph and Alex provide some of the more comical moments – especially while taking revenge on the clones of some very annoying classical horror film twins. Only in a Jordan Peele film would N.W.A soundtrack a brutal murder scene and manage to get a perfect blend of creepy and funny simultaneously.
Peele and his cinematographer Mike Gioulakis explore the power of the “summer horror” where brutal murders take place as much in the sun as they do at night. Make no mistake though, the initial home invasion scene is easily one of the most terrifying things I’ve seen on screen in a long time. The blend of tension, fear and the chaos that is bubbling from the surface is palpable, as the red-clothed Others drift into the house with a singular purpose. To get what they deserve.
It’s not one for the easily scared, and don’t go in expecting the more politically slanted horror of Peele’s previous feature, but Us is a horror film that leaves you with as many questions as answers and an overwhelming feeling of unease.
Come and talk theories with me in the comments!