With Get Out, Jordan Peele electrified the world of modern horror filmmaking, reinvigorating the potential for strong socio-political messages in harrowing and entertaining packages. The message amplified the scares and vice versa, sending shockwaves all the way to the Academy Awards. With Us, Peele cements his position as a genuine auteur with far more to offer than we saw in his huge debut (as if that were ever in doubt). Us is not as revolutionary as Get Out—and thank God. How boring would it be if he tried to break the mold every time? Like if every song on Led Zeppelin IV was a variation on “Stairway to Heaven.” The worst thing Peele could have done would be to emulate his previous breakthrough, and with Us, he proves that he is worth the hype.
Us follows the Wilson family: mother Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), father Gabe (Winston Duke), daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph), and son Jason (Evan Alex) on their annual trip to their summer home—the house in which Adelaide grew up.
A trip to the nearby boardwalk and carnival revives memories of a traumatic event from Adelaide’s past that she has never shared. When she visited this same carnival as a child, she wandered away from her family and saw her doppelgänger in a house of mirrors—not a reflection. Bit by bit, we see glimpses of the event and the emotional consequences to her and her parents. Little coincidences lead her to believe that her double is coming for her, until one day copies of her and her entire family appear at their house during a power outage. The strangers have mysterious origins and unclear motives, but Adelaide must fight for her family’s lives, and her own right to exist.
R, 121 minutes
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX, Violet Crown Cinema
There are as many twists and turns in Us as there were in Get Out, but if you happen to hear an unwanted spoiler, the fun will not be ruined. In Get Out, the audience’s ignorance of the larger plot was crucial to the film’s air of creepiness, and put us in the shoes of the protagonist. In Us, everything is bad, it escalates, and there is no easy way out. I happened to predict some crucial twists, but when they came to be, they were still scary, satisfying, funny, or all three.
In addition to the scares and jokes, Us is a tribute to social relics of the past. The film opens in 1986, with Adelaide watching an old TV set with various VHS cassettes on either side (watch for references to those films throughout; some are obvious, some are subtle). Among the things she witnesses is an ad for Hands Across America—if you’re old enough to remember, you’ve also likely forgotten this massive non-event by now. But, like many of the best horror films, Us seizes on the shadows of memories either buried or cast aside. Just because we never talk about it anymore doesn’t mean its traces have disappeared, and so too with personal memories and trauma.
The film works on almost all levels: visually, thematically, and even comedically. Nyong’o is spectacularly creepy in her dual roles, while Duke is a revelation as the goofy dad. The performances from child actors are terrific, and supporting turns from Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker prove surprisingly resonant. There are a few narrative hiccups that interrupt the flow, including at least one twist that might actually be impossible, but they don’t drag the film down. Us is a great sophomore film from a gifted filmmaker who has many more stories to tell
See it again: Napoleon Dynamite
PG, 96 minutes
The Paramount Theater, April 2
Local theater listings:
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema 377 Merchant Walk Sq., 326-5056
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213
Violet Crown Cinema 200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000