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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, May 29, 2024

'Us' scares, provokes, delights

With Jordan Peele’s breakout hit “Get Out” (2017), the director proved to the world that he possesses both a prolific power for story-telling and the ability to tacitly discuss America’s ongoing class and race-based struggles. Of course, fans have been eagerly waiting for more, and “Us” (2019) does not disappoint. With terrifying performances, the movie cultivates an atmosphere of horror while also serving as another lens through which to question America’s dark and bloody past.

The movie opens in 1986 as a young girl, Adelaide Thomas (Lupita Nyong’o), wanders into a funhouse while on vacation in Santa Cruz, Calif. While inside, she encounters her doppelgänger and barely manages to escape with her life. Fast-forward to the present, and Adelaide returns to her family's beach house along with her husband Gabe Wilson (Winston Duke), her daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and her son Jason (Evan Alex). When they arrive, Adelaide quickly becomes uneasy, and her worst fears are confirmed; later that night, the family notices a group of four strangers gathering in their driveway. The four strangers quickly break into the house, and the Wilson family is in for a terrible surprise: These apparent strangers are all doppelgängers of each family member. The Wilsons become separated by their doubles and must fight for their lives to escape from the mysterious clutches of the strangers before it’s too late.

As should be expected of Peele, the movie is rife with symbolism and metaphor, which (most of the time) work to great success. The title of the movie itself exemplifies the layers of depth present throughout the film: “Us” implies audience participation in the themes depicted onscreen while also reinforcing that this movie is about the United States and its past. In fact, while the plot is good enough to refrain from spoiling, the movie’s overall message is about the consequences of repressing history and the dangers that await those who refuse to confront the past. The horrifying doppelgängers themselves are a comment on how the greatest enemies are the things that people hide from the world and further reinforce the danger of self-repression and erasure.

The idea of doubles is another interesting motif which is reflected, quite literally, time and again throughout the movie. Whether it’s an alarm clock that shows the time 11:11 a.m. or the surplus of mirrors, the movie signals once again that we are our own worst enemies — we are ones who contribute to the problems found in today’s society. The themes in “Us” connect to societal issues like race and class in a way that feels natural; the only problem is that at times there is too much to absorb, too much symbolism. With that said, Peele balances delivery so that this message never feels forced and retains its depth, even if he does have trouble settling on a central message.

Of course, this is not just a political film, but also a bona fide horror experience, and “Us” succeeds here, too. Everything about its plot is designed to unnerve the viewer, and the movie’s pacing is cultivated to elicit real scares over and over again, all the while deftly weaving in development. Peele clearly has creative muscles to flex, and the result is atmospheric horror at its finest.

Perhaps the main reason the film is so frightening stems from the wonderful performances each actor delivers. While there are standouts among the entire cast, including powerful acting from Duke and Alex, the standout is, without a doubt, Nyong’o. Each actor also plays their character’s doppelgängers, so seeing them switch to a completely different (and chilling) personality is rewarding, but Nyong’o is in a league of her own. The shift in her mannerisms allows the audience to see just how capable she is of playing completely different characters, and her skills add layers of despair and, again, horror to “Us” that simply would not be present with another lead. Not only does she add immense emotional depth, but she is also truly terrifying, and the film is much better because of her performance.

Finally, the film’s soundtrack and cinematography are not the best in the business but deserve praise; a few clever shots and well-placed tracks steer audience attention through the story beats. Backed by such solid acting and pacing, the overall creation is one that feels refined, developed and poignant.

As a whole, “Us” is an experience not to be missed, and certainly not one to be taken lightly. While Peele suffers from a few missteps, they are extremely minor, and the movie’s strengths far outweigh any possible weaknesses. Like his first film, this is a must-see, especially for those tired by the horror genre’s tendency towards the generic. With another success under his belt, it’s clear that Jordan Peele has more to say about America, and we need to listen, or we risk falling under the spell of destruction.

Summary "Us" is a perfect blend of terrifying and thought-provoking, and the movie is a strong entry in Jordan Peele's growing portfolio.
4.5 Stars