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28 Mar 2019

A Heavy, Scary Thriller: Jordan Peele's 'Us' Offers More Bare-Knuckle Horror With a Message

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Lupita Nyong’o, Evan Alex and Shahadi Wright Joseph in Us. Lupita Nyong’o, Evan Alex and Shahadi Wright Joseph in Us.

Oh, those evil doppelgängers, and their wonderful place in horror lore. See: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Twin Peaks, The Thing—and now Jordan Peele’s extremely creepy Get Out follow-up, Us.

I ask you: What could be creepier than your double trying to slash your neck? Peele knows that it’s the ultimate nightmare—and Us plays upon it with chilling glee.

The film starts with a quote about America having many miles of tunnels underneath its surface; there’s then a quick flashback shot of a videotape of 1984 sci-fi film C.H.U.D. next to a VCR. A TV plays an advertisement for Hands Across America, and you already have all sorts of subtext before anything even really happens.

With a series in which a young girl (Madison Curry) in the same 1980s flashback drifts away from her father at a beach amusement park and finds herself in a darkened hall of mirrors, Peele immediately makes it clear that he’s not playing around with this movie: Prepared to be scared, disturbed and uncomfortable in a good way.

The film then jumps to the present day, where Adelaide and Gabe (Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke) are taking their children, Zora and Jason (Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex), to the beach. It’s the same beach we saw in the flashback—and much to her chagrin, Adelaide was that young girl who ventured into that hall of mirrors. She’s not happy about revisiting the Santa Cruz pier, but the husband and kids really want to, so she takes one for the team.

The family excursion quickly becomes the worst vacation ever, as another family shows up, at night, standing in their driveway. A quick examination of the intruders reveals what the commercials for this movie have already told you: The family in the driveway is a mirror image of the stunned family inside the house. However, they aren’t coming over to borrow the lawn mower. They intend to kill everybody.

Once again, this vacation sucks.

Us has a larger scope than I was expecting; it qualifies as one of the better apocalypse movies I’ve ever seen. There’s no question that writer-director Peele has been gobbling up zombie, slasher and isolation movies his entire life, and their influences play a significant part in his vision. The movie is a mind-bender, but it’s also an efficient, bare-knuckle horror-thriller. In short, it’s the whole package as far as horror movies go.

Nyong’o, whose doppelgänger’s name is Red, gets a chance to play two meaty roles here—and she’s all over them. While Adelaide is a strong-willed mom for whom we can’t help but cheer, Red is a croaky monster (the only doppelganger that speaks) who comes with an unexpected level of pathetic sadness. She reveals plenty about why she and her evil-twin pals are doing what they do.

Peele fans know that the man—on top of being able to scare the piss out of you—can make you laugh as well. Us is often as funny as it is scary. Duke is a crack-up as the dad who can’t quite get it right while he’s trying to protect his family. In a masterstroke of casting, Tim Heidecker of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! scores as Gabe’s smug friend. He’s the wiseass husband of Kitty (Elisabeth Moss). Moss does things in this movie that will always qualify as some of her best work.

When asked who they are, Red the doppelgänger leader replies: “We are Americans.” Us might be scary and funny, but it is also an unforgiving condemnation of American missteps, past and present. The movie is a lot of fun, but it’s also heavy.

Peele has a revamp of The Twilight Zone coming to CBS All Access soon, and Us plays like a nice primer for more twisty mischief to come. As for his movies, Peele is on one hell of a roll.

Us is playing at theaters across the valley.

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