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Review: Jordan Peele's 'Us' is scary, novel, and just plain fun

Photo: Universal Pictures

Photo: Universal Pictures

When your directorial debut becomes an instant classic, followup expectations can run a little high. Some filmmakers might feel the urge to double down in that position, rehashing concepts or simply making a sequel. But Jordan Peele is too smart and too talented to repeat himself.

Taking the Twilight Zone episode “Mirror Image” as inspiration, Us focuses on Adelaide (Madison Curry), a young girl who runs into her double in a boardwalk house of mirrors. Years later, the grown-up Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) returns to the beachfront with her husband, Gabe Wilson (Winston Duke), and their two children, Jason and Zora (Evan Alex and Shahadi Wright Joseph).

Strange happenings abound before the sun goes down. When the family returns home, four strangers appear at their front door. After they break in and take the Wilsons hostage, we see the attackers for what they are: a family of doppelgängers. It’s unclear what the shadow clan wants, but the razor-sharp golden scissors don’t bode well.

Peele leverages more conventional horror tactics here, which makes for a decidedly freakier movie than his first. And yet, as the story unravels and things get truly bonkers, it becomes clear that there’s a whole lot more underpinning this movie than its surface scares suggest.

In interviews, Peele has contextualized Us as another one of his “social thrillers,” so deeper themes shouldn’t be a shocker. However, his thesis—if I’m reading it correctly—is definitely a curveball. While Get Out’s point was pretty direct, there’s so much symbolism and so many layers to Us that its message proves to be anything but straightforward.

To be honest, it’s damn near impossible to fully understand this movie after one viewing. Peele is clearly playing with ideas of the Other, of class, privilege, and self-destruction. But how that coalesces into a unified theory is up for debate. That ambiguity may turn off some viewers, but if you can appreciate a slow-burn head-scratcher, Us delivers as much intrigue as terror.

I’m not convinced everything works, but so much of this movie is downright stunning that Us still distinguishes itself from 90 percent of the movies, horror or otherwise, coming out in a given year. The story stands out, but the cinematography also adds incredible texture. The soundtrack, in tandem with Michael Abels’ knockout score, maximizes both laughs and scares. Though the Academy rarely recognizes horror movie talent, Nyong’o’s double performance is undoubtedly Oscar-worthy.

Us manages to be scary, novel, and just plain fun. Get Out is without question the better movie, but that’s such a high bar that the comparison, though inevitable, is sort of irrelevant. Us is good enough in its own right, and you have to appreciate Peele’s willingness to try new things and make movies that are unique. Though it’s only his second picture, Peele is well on his way to becoming a master of horror.

Us
Director: Jordan Peele
Starring: Lupita Nyong'o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss
Rated: R
Theater: Area theaters, now showing