"We are Americans."
Back in 1986, a little girl wanders away from her parents at the beach in Santa Monica, and encounters her duplicate in a House of Mirrors.
Decades later, she returns with her husband and children to the same location, where they meet the doppelgänger and her equally disturbed family.
The reunion, on the whole, goes rather poorly.
Jordan Peele's second film follows the successful Get Out with a bigger budget and a broader net. He gets full credit for taking a bizarre horror premise and letting it grow increasingly strange, in ways that follow from the premise's own internal nightmare logic. The movie takes unexpected turns. Perhaps the only thing not surprising is the final twist, which I have to imagine most viewers will see coming some ways off. I don't see the fact as a flaw, particularly; it makes perfect sense, especially metaphorically and thematically.
The film asks questions.
Are we who we think we are?
A film this odd can fall on the slightest misstep. Fortunately, Peele has the talent to handle his script. Few directors give as much attention to detail as Peele. Nothing gets wasted and, in a film so broad-ranging, his ability to create layers of meaning and internal echoes deserves applause. He has created believable characters, who can handle the humanity, horror, and frequent humour of the situation. The use of a certain N.W.A. song at a key moment brings a kind of comic cleverness without removing the audience from the film.
A strong cast wanders through Peele's cinematic funhouse. The script demands much of them-- the core cast, which includes children, must convincingly play a successful American family and their shadow selves. They deliver. Lupita Nyong'o, in particular, proves compelling, engaging, and absolutely terrifying as tortured protagonist and antagonist. Both of them re-encounter things they've seen before, now seen in a disturbing light and shadow.
Of course, we've seen some of this film before. Us echoes (often quite deliberately) past horror movies and ancient myths. It's a kind of Twilight Zone episode, and, in fact, expands upon the premise of an actual episode, "Mirror Image." Nevertheless, the sheer batguanocraziness of the film means it has to score some points for originality.
More viewers will come wanting to compare the movie to Peele's successful debut. I would say that it's not as internally coherent as a work of art. I found it, however, more entertaining. We have a compelling horror movie with particular resonance at a time of deep, disturbing divisions in American society. These include race-related implications, but they're handled differently than they are in Get Out. Remove racial politics from Get Out and the story no longer exists. Remove them from Us, and the story would still unfold.
That story works overall. Some elements might have been rethought.
The explanation for the shadow people, necessarily incomplete, doesn't really need to exist at all. I didn’t mind it, particularly, but Peele could have shown some restraint. I think it's better to have us just accept an irrational premise and follow it, as most of this movie does. Better to have the audience wonder, "whence come the shadows?" than wonder how the explanation makes any kind of rational sense.
In the end, Us makes for fine, demented horror movie viewing, which the film school kids will be re-watching for years.
Directed and written by Jordan Peele
Lupita Nyong'o as Adelaide Wilson / Red
Winston Duke as Gabe Wilson / Abraham
Shahadi Wright Joseph as Zora Wilson / Umbrae
Evan Alex as Jason Wilson / Pluto
Elisabeth Moss as Kitty Tyler
Tim Heidecker as Josh Tyler
Madison Curry as Young Adelaide Wilson / Young Red
Ashley Mckoy as Teenage Adelaide Wilson
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Russel Thomas
Anna Diop as Rayne Thomas
Cali Sheldon as Becca Tyler
Noelle Sheldon as Lindsey Tyler
Napiera Groves as Dr. Foster
Lon Gowan as Don
Alan Frazier as Alan
Duke Nicholson as Danny
Dustin Ybarra as Troy
Nathan Harrington as Glen
Kara Hayward as Nancy
You know what's creepier than seeing a horror movie about doppelgängers? Leaving a horror movie about doppelgängers, and immediately passing smiling, shining identical twin girls.