Peele’s sudden and swift success with Get Out (2017) left many wondering if the sketch comedian turned director really could be the horror pantheon’s saviour. After a lean half century brimming with blood, gore and gratuitous torture porn, the genre emerged into something of a renaissance. Following the release of Get Out came a swath of imaginative and intelligent thrillers like Raw (2016), The Babadook (2014) and It Follows (2014) and the horror genre began to establish itself as the go-to vehicle for social commentary.
By far the most commercially successful iteration was Get Out, which grossed just over $250 million worldwide. But after such overwhelming success, could Peele really do it again with Us? Well, the answer is yes. Just as Get Out was a chilling survival horror that had oh-so-relevant things to say about the African-American experience, Us is a chilling survival horror that equally has a significant amount to say about duality, privilege and the swelling vein of apathy running through the heart of America.
Lupita Nyong’o plays Adelaide, who along with her good-natured husband Gabe (Winston Duke, is taking her kids on a summer holiday in a plush family lake house. However, discontent with their rugged, but sparse lakeside, Gabe sets his sights on taking the family to a beach resort further down the coast. It’s at this very beach resort that Adelaide suffered a hauntingly traumatic experience as a child in 1986. Whilst her parents were busy enjoying the fun fair at the resort, little Adelaide wandered off and found herself in a sinister hall of mirrors where she had her terrifying ordeal.
As an adult, Adelaide has a maladjusted fear of losing her children and is terrified of them leaving her side. At the beach, they meet up with a disillusioned white couple, the Tylers (Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker) who Adelaide can’t relate to and Gabe can’t stand. They have a flashier car, flashier lake house and even flashier boat. But what they don’t have over Adelaide’s family is unity and happiness only mildly underpinned by material jealousy. This happiness is shattered however when a family of doppelgangers suddenly appear on their driveway; extremely creepy, scissor-wielding, wild-eyed doppelgangers.
Who they are and where they’ve come from is a revelation that perhaps might have been best left a mystery. Why the doppelgangers (otherwise called The Tethered in the film) exist is revealed through substantial exposition, but the question of how they came to be is never answered and becomes a frustrating plot hole that is otherwise glossed over.
As frustrating a plot hole as it is, it can be easily be overlooked as Peele ramps up the tension, joyfully riffing on the usual tropes of home invasion horror in unexpected ways. Peele’s handling of the interplay between the family members and their terrible twins is also great fun to watch. There are sneak peeks into Peele’s former life as a comedian as events get weird and there are spikes of laugh-out-loud comedy.
Lupita Nyong’o’s hauntingly fierce gaze and her astonishing (if now controversial) vocal performance is truly the pillar of the film. Just like Toni Collette’s barn-storming performance last year’s in Hereditary (2018), Nyong’o’s performance is worth solid gold but due to Hollywood biases will never stand a chance come awards season.
Much like his directorial debut, Peele’s Us combines a chilling score with a few recognisable songs from artists such as Janelle Monae, Minnie Riperton and of course, Luniz. Michael Abels gives us a gorgeously twisted version of I Got Five On It turning a classic 1990s hip-hop tune into one of the most evocative horror movie scores of the last decade.
While it may not be as neat and tidy as Get Out, Us certainly delivers as an ambitious and imaginative horror film and is a glowing addition to Peele’s expanding portfolio. Behind all the motif and subtext lies a real appreciation for horror, evidenced by Peele’s past declaration of his love for the genre. If nothing else, it’s exciting to see a film-maker actively trying to push the boundaries of what many believed was a tired genre. I, for one, can’t wait to see what he does next.