Director: Jordan Peele
Starring: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Shahadi Wright Joseph, and Evan Alex
4.00 out of 5.00
There is an episode of Rod Serling’s iconic series, “The Twilight Zone,” titled “Mirror Image;” the episode stars Vera Miles and Martin Milner as two prospective passengers waiting for a train.
Miles’ character encounters her doppelganger and realizes that her double is trying to take over her life. This episode demonstrates Serling’s amazing ability to control tone and build unsettling dread without the typical elements that invoke scares in genre films.
It’s not surprising that this episode of “The Twilight Zone” was a source of influence for director Jordan Peele, who has already taken control and will relaunch the seminal television show in April.
Mr. Peele made an exceptional film debut in 2017 with “Get Out,” a horror film filled with social commentary on race and racism in America told with thought-provoking narrative skill and ingenious genre implementation.
“Us” is Peele again utilizing genre filmmaking to tell deeper stories about history, culture and race concerns. It’s an impressive sophomore effort from a director who clearly understands how impactful horror and science fiction can be for storytelling.
Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) and Gabe Wilson (Winston Duke) are a happily married couple travelling with their two children to Santa Cruz, Calif., for a getaway. She has some unpleasant memories about being lost in an amusement park as a child in this area, and is hesitant about venturing too far from their house.
While enjoying their evening at home, the family is suddenly held captive by another family that looks exactly like them.
Mr. Peele understands that many of the terrors of the world don’t need to come from outer space or from a fresh grave, instead the writer/director utilizes the normalcy found in everyday life to introduce frightening elements.
In “Get Out” it was finding yourself at an awkward dinner party that served as the foundation for terror, one that introduced forced possession as a metaphor for race relations, and changing concerns about racism in America.
In “Us” the normalcy and dread are found within the ambitions of the self, specifically within a family who finds themselves looking into mirror-images of themselves. However, the eyes they find themselves looking into are different, menacing and entranced with taking over the ordinary family.
The metaphors throughout are direct but also far reaching.
In one element you can see a connection between a past and current political structure, the stripping away of culture and identify for diverse populations. The aspect that even as the world burns our scariest foe will be ourselves and the choices we make amidst the chaos.
It’s brilliant, complex storytelling told with humor placed in all the right places, heart that keeps the family dynamic the core of the film, and some truly bold horror filmmaking skills.
Nyong’o is captivating and completely intimidating in vastly different dual roles.
In one moment the actress is motherly, tender and compassionate, and the next she stares blankly, expresses a guttural tone, moving with precision cadence. It’s a complete wonder to watch the back and forth of her characters as the film moves into its complete horror state.
Ms. Nyong’o’s impressive performance displays her range as an actor, but it also showcases Peele’s skill as a director.
“Us” feels like a contemporary “Twilight Zone” episode come to life. Peele deftly controls the narrative and filmmaking elements throughout, timing out scares with precision and building a nice family dynamic story structure.
There are moments when the ideas building throughout just grow too big to be restrained in this film alone, which unfortunately creates an unevenness as the film moves into the finale. Still, Mr. Peele was able to solidify his place as one of the most innovative and exciting filmmakers currently working in the making of just his first two films.