Jordan Peele’s background in sketch comedy makes him the least likely person to be considered one of horror’s great new directors, and yet here we are. Us, the follow-up to his Oscar-winning debut Get Out, is another oustanding piece of suspense cinema; spectacularly crafted, superbly acted, truly terrifying and extremely entertaining.
The film follows a family on summer vacation, frightened by the arrival of their apparent doubles on their driveway, carrying scissors and ready to kill. Much like Get Out, the plot isn’t all it seems. It’s once again enriched with Peele’s social commentary, this time taking a stab at a divided modern-day America, in an effective albeit not-so-subtle way.
Discussing the film, Peele said: ‘This movie is about this country. We are in a time where we fear the other. Whether it is a mysterious invader that we think is going to come and kill us, take our jobs, or the faction that we don’t live near that voted a different way than us. We’re all about pointing the finger and I wanted to suggest that maybe the monster we really need to look at has our face. Maybe the evil is us.’
Despite the film’s political undercurrent, it never once takes precedence over the film itself being a riveting and entertaining experience, first and foremost. Peele clearly has a voice, but his main priority is to give the audience a good time and it shows. This film isn’t telling the audience off. It’s not a lecture. It’s just so much fun. Peele has managed to strike that balance almost effortlessly, making exciting cinema while at the same time proving that films like this can indeed have a brain and treat their audience like they have one too. The man clearly respects his audience and that’s something to be admired.
The craftsmanship on display here is also particularly impressive. Mike Gioulakis’s cinematography generates an atmosphere unparalleled by the majority of films in the genre, demonstrating a lot of ambition and creativity behind the camera that compliments Peele’s screenplay perfectly. The film is also edited to perfection, complete with magnificent sound design and a perfectly-pitched score by Michael Abels that is both disturbing and energetic all at the same time. Us is the culmination of a lot of people doing outstanding work in their respective fields, combining to make something very special indeed.
This film is frankly jaw-dropping to look at. It’s not a film that you simply watch. It’s a cinematic experience the likes of which we see so rarely these days, and Peele’s natural talent for suspense is comparable to the legendary Alfred Hitchcock, which is a compliment not to be taken lightly. From the moment the family appears, the film pulls its audience in and never let go, providing an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride that never pauses for breath. Its scares are tremendously effective and leave a lasting impact long after the credits roll.
This lasting impact comes not just from the thrills but also Peele’s particularly clever screenplay that offers a great deal to be discussed, and plenty of reason to revisit the film as soon as possible. The third act offers some big surprises but none are out of left-field. It’s only once the film ends that the audience realises what story Peele was really telling, and you’re left with an entirely different perspective on it. Us is a film that works as a terrifying and suspenseful horror film on first viewing, but can be viewed as an entirely different piece all together the second time around, and that’s quite some feat.
It’s undoubtedly a film that will feel new with each viewing, with meticulous detail and plenty of information to unpack; the sort of picture that you can see being the subject of university dissertations, with each student offering a completely different vantage point. A mainstream horror flick that gets its audience thinking and analysing is a rare treat, and Us offers that in spades.
There is also an effective dose of dark humour in the film, much like Get Out, stemming from Peele’s comedy background. Once again, it’s perfectly judged. The laughs never detract away from the tension, with every line coming naturally as a result of the character dynamics, not once feeling forced or unnecessary. The humour simply adds yet another layer of entertainment value to the picture, making Us a film that has you smiling just as much as it does hiding behind your coat.
All this aside, the film wouldn’t be as spectacular as it is without Lupita Nyong’o’s central performance. Nyong’o is as memorable a horror lead as Toni Colette was in last year’s Hereditary, perhaps even better, offering an extremely complex and emotional performance that could honestly be considered Oscar-worthy.
Sophomore features are often unsuccessful. When a filmmaker is so triumphant on their first attempt, they can often be put on such a high pedestal that it is impossible to reach it again. Alternatively, their extra creative freedom can lead to an ego-trip that results in disaster. With Us, Peele has not fallen victim to the ‘sophomore jinx’, offering a film with just as much to discuss and admire as his first.
Get Out is perhaps better scripted, but Us is far more impressive on a technical level. Peele has clearly gained that little extra confidence and is happily flexing his directorial muscles, and it really pays off. The film is near-perfect. It’s fun, scary, suspenseful, thought-provoking and cinematically rich, doing everything that a film like this should do and yet so many don’t.
This review contains a lot of brownnosing, but honestly Jordan Peele is the type of filmmaker that Hollywood needs right now. We are genuinely seeing the rise of one of the world’s most exciting new directors. His brand is establishing itself among many other great auteurs; making films like no other and presenting a clear unique voice. Peele is a true original, creating innovative horror films that offer endless suspense and surprise. The fact that Us had such a monumental record-breaking opening weekend offers a great deal of hope for cinema, as it proves that audiences do still want new and original films like this, and as long as Peele is offering them, we have every reason to be excited.
Us is not a film that you should just go and see. It’s a film you should see twice. Then, when you’ve finished, think about it a little. Discuss it with your friends. Then watch it again.
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