Film Review: Delightfully deranged 'Us' will make your heart skip a beat
“I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them.” - Jeremiah 11:11
Two years after winning an Academy Award for “Get Out”, writer/director Jordan Peele returns with a delightfully deranged home invasion-family horror film with a heart-stopping twist: you are the person knocking at the door.
Inspired by “The Twilight Zone” episode “Mirror Image”, it’s already quadrupled its $20 million budget. It’s easy to see why. The pace is relentless and with a mixture of comedy, classic horror references, social commentary, innovative storytelling and symbolism, “Us” takes the genre to uncharted territory. It will be dissected in film classes ad infinitum.
Do we know our true identity? Are we who we think we are? Or are we just a reflection of what people expect us to be? (The Wilson’s' toy cupboard includes the board game "Guess Who?” in which players are required to match the identical face of the card chosen by the other player)
In a flashback to 1986 at a beachside Santa Cruz fairground young Adelaide Wilson (Madison Curry) discovers something terrifying after wandering into an eerie house of mirrors – her doppelganger.
Fast-forward to the present day and Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) is living a comfortably middle-class suburban life with her goofball husband Gabe (Winston Duke –hilarious as a cheesy dad who can't help but make terrible jokes), and their two children Jason and Zora (Evan Alex and Shahadi Wright Joseph).
They head off on holiday to their summer home just outside of Santa Cruz, jamming to Luniz's "I Got 5 on it”, for family time and pithy in-fighting. Take note of their unhelpful virtual assistant – ironically the name derives from the Greek "ophelos," meaning "help."
Despite Adelaide’s initial apprehension they hit the very same beach as the flashback to meet up with old friends -Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss’s impressively douchy middle-class white family. Once there mysterious forces seem to be pushing her toward whatever once harmed her.
Don’t be surprised to see the exceptional Nyong`o nominated for her performance here when award season comes back around. She’s mesmerising not only as the troubled wife/mother finding strength in the face of confusion and sheer brutality but also as the deranged doppelganger driven by her own vague mission.
They return home and are settling down for the night when their peace is broken by a most unlikely set of trespassers lined up across their driveway – doppelgangers of themselves. They are all wearing identical red jumpsuits and carrying a large pair of dressmaking scissors. It gets violent and stays violent from then on. What do they want? They are here to kill.
What is “Us” really about? For me it’s a modern take on Jekyll and Hyde – everyone has a shadow. There’s a monstrous doppelganger for each and every one of us. Mirror images are everywhere, from the numbers on the digital clock that recall a previously glimpsed apocalyptic sign (“Jeremiah 11:11”) and the score of the baseball game Gabe is watching (tied 11-11) to the symmetrical shape of the scissors that are the intruders weapon of choice (no doubt a nod to the imagery in Kenneth Branagh’s “Dead Again”).
You may read the film differently and that’s fine. There’s the school of thought that Peele is asking the audience to look at what’s happening right now and reflect upon it – a wake-up call for capitalist America.
That’s the beauty of what has been created here- it warrants discussion. Hell, you may even be too busy screaming to care. However, there is one unequivocal fact here that isn’t up for debate and that is that, in the words of Olly Murs, “Us” will make your heart skip a beat.