Jordan Peele has proven himself to be one of the foremost creators in the realm of modern horror. His 2017 directorial debut Get Out scored critical acclaim across the board, and landed an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. The nod was a landmark win for directors of color and for the horror genre, and left fans begging for more from the man formerly behind Comedy Central’s smash hit "Key & Peele". Viewers may have come for the slow-burn horror story a la Rosemary’s Baby, but stayed for the scathing social commentary on racial tensions in America.
This spring proves to be a pivotal season for Peele, as not only does his reimagining of the seminal series "The Twilight Zone" reach streaming via CBS All Access on April 1, but his new nightmare Us hit theaters with a bang. The tagline for this thrilling new vision is “We Are Our Own Worst Enemy,” and references to 90s songs aside, this plays out on the screen in a much different fashion than in Get Out, though this execution should not be taken lightly.
The Wilson family, led by mother Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) and father Gabe (Winston Duke), takes a summer vacation to Santa Cruz, CA with their friends Josh and Kitty Tyler (Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss). While older Wilson child Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) mostly keeps to herself while lounging on the beach, her younger brother Jason (Evan Alex) wanders off and explores the beachfront. His wandering echoes back to a young Adelaide’s disappearance, which plays out in the film’s opening.
Though all is well for the moment, that night turns everything on its ear. A family clad in red jumpsuits stands ominously in the driveway of the Wilson villa, prompting the family to investigate. The crimson collective proceeds to, after a tense standoff between Gabe and the group, invade the home, overtaking the Wilsons. The invaders share something with the Wilsons: they look exactly like them, though instead of Adelaide, Gabe, Zora, and Jason, these four are Red, the raspy-voiced leader, Abraham, the post-verbal powerhouse, Umbrae, the grinning girl, and Pluto, Mommy’s little monster in a white mask.
Red reveals that they are the Tethered, that they are linked to their normal counterparts from birth. Kept underground, the Tethered mirror their surface-dwelling doppelgängers in movement, though not always in action or intention. For ages, Red and her companions have plotted to break through to the normal world and take over, by force or otherwise. Brandishing pairs of gold shears, the Tethered proceed to raise their own brand of Hell on earth, shaking the Wilsons to their core with every encounter, every chase, and every savage attack.
It is genuinely hard to pick out one thing to love about this film, but if I had to narrow it down, I would choose to highlight the invasion of the Tyler villa. The music choices piped in by the Alexa knockoff Ophelia serve to heighten the all-important what-the-fuck factor. During the invasion of the Tethered Tyler family, the Beach Boys classic “Good Vibrations” plays throughout the home, offering a particularly jarring soundtrack for what follows. After the carnage, and in a moment which displays the shortcomings of voice commands, N.W.A’s “Fuck tha Police” rings out through the home, as the Wilsons arrive on the scene. While the jump from golden oldies to the golden age of hip-hop is head-spinning enough, the deliberate placement of N.W.A. as the Wilsons have opted to take the law into their own hands was nothing short of brilliant. By that point, when the cops have failed to show up, the body count is rising, and the dark yarn is unraveling at a blinding pace, well… fuck the police.
A far cry from the mounting tension that Get Out brought, Us managed to hit the accelerator from the get-go and refused to let up for very long, even during the exposition scenes. The absolute doozy of a plot twist at the film’s conclusion was a genuine shock, despite the hints being dropped along the way. As the credits rolled on this two-hour terror, my jaw remained wide open in shock for minutes after.
My expectations were high for this film, given the body of work Jordan Peele has given us thus far, and I can safely say that if you share in the expectations I had, you will not be disappointed. Lupita Nyong’o’s portrayal of Adelaide / Red was spellbinding, as was Evan Alex’s work as Jason / Pluto. The nods to classic horror such as The Lost Boys and Friday the 13th were very much appreciated. The social commentary on the “other,” the us vs. them mentality, if you will, as well as of culturalization and even on PTSD, is enough to make even a casual fan want to scratch past the surface of this tale of two parallel worlds. Visually striking, psychologically earth-shaking, and all around satisfying, Us is a must-see for horror fans. Support great horror, support black storytelling, and support the new horror heavyweight that is Jordan Peele by checking out Us.