Thursday 28 March 2019

Film Review: Us

Hot off the heels of Oscar-winning horror Get Out, writer/director Jordan Peele returns with an even scarier sophomore effort in Us.

The talk of the town at South by Southwest earlier this month, Us sees Peele deliver another strong serving of astute social commentary wrapped in a thick layer of stomach-churning spookiness and squelchy horror.

Us centres around an idyllic family holiday to Santa Cruz that soon takes a turn for the worst. Adelaide (a stellar Lupita Nyong'o) and her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) drive out to their holiday home on the coast for the weekend, with their children Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex) in tow. Haunted by a nightmarish trip to the same beach at the age of five, Adelaide is out of sorts – her antsy antics compounded by a series of strange coincidences and signs that spell doom.

Later that day, the family notice a quartet of shadowy figures standing ominously at the end of the driveway. A horrifying home invasion soon becomes much more, as the culprits – dressed in red overalls and armed with golden scissors – reveal themselves to be the family's evil doppelgängers, led by the raspy-voiced Red (Nyong'o).

Don't fret if that all sounds like a bit too much information – all this is revealed in the film's tense first act. There's a lot more to it than that. Peele is a master of gently building tension, adding layer upon layer of dread until it's practically dripping from the screen and into your lap. He does this whilst also using humour to endear us to his protagonists. Gabe, a goofy corporate-type who rattles off dad joke after dad joke, eases the tension somewhat, with Adelaide acting as his polar opposite – jumpy, guarded and definitely hiding something.

Nyong'o is simply brilliant as Adelaide and Red. A dual good and evil role is the stuff an actor's dreams are made of, and Nyong'o relishes the opportunity to sink her teeth into it. Without giving too much away, Us lives and dies with these two central characters – if Nyong'o couldn't sell the duality and give each something distinctly different, it wouldn't work anywhere near as well as it does. Thankfully, she knocks it out of the park.

The thrills and spills are expertly crafted and choreographed. Peele has once again created indelible images that already feel iconic – in Get Out, it was the teacup and the Sunken Place. Here, it's the blood red outfits and sinister scissors carried by the antagonists (known as 'the Tethered'). Visually, Us is another home run – it's the overarching themes where things start to get a little jumbled.

Peele's film is very thematically dense, with layer upon layer of metaphor, symbolism and meaning slapped together. It has a lot on its mind - almost too much. I'm not sure all of Peele's ambitious ideas coalesce into one coherent thought, a fact that is only compounded by a lethargic exposition dump at the end that only poses more questions than it answers. Maybe Peele felt compelled to feed the hungry internet machine that obsesses over every plot detail and needs everything explained. Some things are best left to the imagination. They're scarier that way.

Peele also peppers his picture with hidden details, motifs and clues. It's a riddle crying out to solved. This will enthral some and infuriate others. But Us isn't your common or garden mainstream horror film. It has something to say. It has ambition. Vision. Guts. And even if it doesn't get all of these things to gel together, it's a damn sight better than most of what the genre has to offer.

The Verdict: 8.5/10

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars. Peele hasn't rested on his laurels after enjoying unprecedented success with Get Out. He's doubled down. And while Us isn't as tight or as triumphant as his debut feature, it does offer ample frights and delights. Audiences are going to be debating and unpacking this one long after the credits have rolled.

Us is in cinemas across Australia from today.


  1. I enjoyed this too. I have a lot of questions but I had a good time watching it. lol

  2. Great review! I agree completely, although there are still things about Us I'm not a fan of, the movie is still miles ahead of many others in the genre!



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