Note: This is a spoiler-free review.
In a recent interview with MTV that I saw on YouTube, Jordan Peele, the director of the horror film Us, was posed the question of whether he’s received any offers to direct movies for popular franchises. His response was perfect.
“I did get a lot of amazing opportunities. In retrospect, amounting to something I was entertaining because any one of these things is a dream come true. But in the back of my head I knew it wasn’t meant to be. There are a few of us out there, trying. It’s scary work and it’s bold work to write original movies. And, whenever one of these things came up or rumors circulated, my fan base would collectively tell me “NOOOO!” I love that. That to me means if I write something new and write it from the heart and try to make my favorite movie that doesn’t exist yet, if it fails, it fails. But I did what I’m here to do.”
Peele has done exactly what he wants to do throughout his comedy and film career, from his hilarious Key and Peele sketches to his Academy Award for Best Screenplay for his directorial debut Get Out, and the result has been highly creative and captivating work that feels, unlike the many retreads that populate our media culture, fresh. His second and most recent film, Us, is perhaps the most Peele-ian of his projects thus far, gifting his audience something so thorough and engrossing that it crosses the boundary from film to experience.
Like Peele’s acclaimed debut Get Out, Us is first and foremost a horror film. The story follows Adelaide Wilson (played by Lupita Nyong’o) and her husband and two children as they innocuously arrive at the Santa Cruz beach for vacation. Frightened by flashbacks to a traumatic incident she had as a child on the same beach, Adelaide is constantly on edge and unable to enjoy the seemingly peaceful locale. But that night, her fears become reality when a family of four, each bearing resemblance to a member of the Wilson family, break into the Wilsons’ summer home. From there, it is a matter of not only survival, but of total transformation.
Intense is one word adequate to describe Us. Watching Us is very much a physical experience – each jump scare, bloody fight, or suspenseful scene builds upon the last to escalate the palpable tension. Peele manipulates even the most mundane of objects and innocuous of jokes play upon the fears of the audience. With brilliant acting from its cast and especially Nyong’o, dynamic action scenes and sets, and chilling images throughout the film, Us transports audiences into this Twilight Zone-esque setting and makes something so far from our reality into something authentic.
The real treat is not the film’s sensory thrills, but its complex and thought-provoking plot. I watched the movie at 10:30 p.m. on a Friday night, walked out of the theater in silence for five minutes, and then have been unable to stop thinking or talking about it since. The film is extremely well-crafted, and the dissection of each layer is entertaining itself after leaving the theater. Though not a commentary on race like Get Out, Us offers its own striking messages about our society that deserve reflection and discussion. It’s not often that a horror film, or any film for that matter, straddles the line between entertainment and depth and hits on both so resoundingly.
Is it better than Get Out? In my opinion, Get Out was a more engrossing movie with a polished and accessible premise, escalating momentum, and chilling commentary. But Us is a dynamo in its own right, a massive leap of faith and creativity made possible due to the success of Get Out. With more creative free reign, Peele has succeeded in making, in his words, his favorite movie that hasn’t been made yet. I find it fascinating, and empowering, that in his latest horror movie, Peele has faced head-on the greatest horror of any filmmaker, the terror of uncertainty, and turned it into his greatest ally.