Jordan Peele masterminding both Us and the newly revamped The Twilight Zone within the space of one month is entirely unfair. Not only does it set the macabre craftsman apart as one of his generation’s leading arbiters of terror, it means that the first half of an already emotionally wrought year will be plagued by existential crises and psychological torment galore.
Peele’s evolution from a unique comedic voice to a puppeteer so thrilled to orchestrate our wildest nightmares is indisputably a cultural shift. If Get Out hadn’t convinced you, Us makes this undeniable.
Set within the confines of a family’s less-than-idyllic vacation to Santa Cruz, after a disturbing trip to the local beach their holiday home is invaded by a family of doppelgängers. Winston Duke portrays the bumbling, self-consciously jokey dad, Gabe, but it’s Lupita Nyong’o who finally shines in her first leading role, crafting two strikingly realised characters in Adelaide and her disturbing, identical counterpart, Red.
As a genre, horror needed Jordan Peele, though make no mistake that the formula was in turmoil. There’s simply been a division throughout the last couple of years, now that horror films with a genuine pleasure for nastiness and crowd-pleasing thrills have made way in cineaste spheres for bloated, portentous supernatural thrillers with dreams of elevation.
Many recent horror directors, however effective their films, have displayed an overt embarrassment on behalf of the genre they’re working within, as if to be collated with unashamed conductors of thrills and chills like John Carpenter, Wes Craven, or Dario Argento is an honour to be sniffed at.
Us couldn’t be more thrilled to scare you. Striking a pleasant balance between It Follows and the recent Suspiria, Jordan Peele crafts an ostensibly surface home invasion narrative that is bursting with intricacies. At once a bare-faced ride through bump-in-the-night, doppelganger mayhem and an allegorical tale loaded with social injustices, it’s a horror film that will leave more scrutinous viewers hastily taking notes and theories down, whilst equally valid straight-laced horror fans can lay back and enjoy the oncoming storm of gruesome twists.
As was apparent with Get Out, Peele loves his audience of horror enthusiasts, and takes great pleasure in pushing how far we can stretch our collective disbelief. Us is laden with glimpses of varied detail at a sordid underbelly, a labyrinthine network of implications and repulsive truths. After Get Out sold us so readily on a body-switching twist in a matter of minutes, it’s refreshing to see Peele really flex what he can do. Naysayers have already voiced their disdain for a supposed number of plot holes or contradictions, but the narrative overhauls all favour a creeping growth of ambiguous lore.
Brimming with nerdy Easter eggs in its recurring lupine imagery and Biblical overtones, Peele is also critically unashamed of recalling the greats that inspired him. Like a 21st-century nod to Poltergeist or The Shining, a family becomes the target of tried and tested haunted house kookiness, before the formula is given its social shake-up. Unlike its predecessors, a black family is front and centre.
The savvy director has assured that, unlike Get Out, Us isn’t attempting to anchor its themes to racial politics. But, as previously stated, Peele radiates a generous love for his audience, and, by letting a black family command the camera, he instils an agency in underrepresented viewers to experience more poignantly their losses and victories.
Since the release of his sophomore effort, Jordan Peele has affirmed that he will be sticking with the trend of casting predominantly black characters to take centre stage, a crucial junction for horror cinema that before had been swamped by the bodies of African American sidekicks and comic relief. As a white Brit, his words and, indeed, his films, arrive at a crucial turning point, coinciding with literature like Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race that call to white people worldwide to evaluate the behaviour of themselves and others.
Us is a horror film that leaves you questioning its inner machinations, but, most importantly, calls upon the most dreaded corners of your psyche to demand relentless self-inquiry. A call for societal upheaval and nationwide evaluation, Us engenders in more ways than one a population of lost voices, and muddies the distinctions between protagonist and villain. Are those positioned in privilege the heroes of their own story, or has their arbitrary alignment forced others into disenfranchisement and poverty?
Written by Lucas Hill-Paul