Trust Jordan Peele, the man who wowed horror buffs with the masterclass film Get Out, to add in his own two cents about America’s political climate in a simple “home invasion via boogeymen” horror movie focused on middle-class folks. The victims are husband Gabe (Winston “Man Ape” Duke), wife Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o), and two kids (Evan Alex, Shahadi Wright Joseph). The antagonists? The Tethered, doppelgangers of said victims wearing red and brandishing scissors, played by their respective actors.
The big question is whether the social exploration is needed in a simple tale? To be frank, it does make the whole film a bit more unique though a little less nuanced than Get Out, still his superior horror film from the budding director. Still, don’t count Us out: it’s still a slickly-directed and striking film and will make you unnerved and leery about scissors and shadows. And rabbits.
Down, Down Underground
The story begins in a 1986 flashback featuring an ad about Hands Across America and a girl who comes across a creepy apparition in a Santa Cruz beach carnival that looks like her. Fast forward to the present, the girl’s all grown-up now and has a family, taking time off to their beach house.
The home invasion bit starts a little later, but it’s great that we get to see the family all fleshed-out in the daytime beach scenes from Adelaide being the stoic and emotional mom while also being uncomfortable in a place that brings her bad memories, to the laid-back tryhard jokester of a patriarch that is Gabe. Lupita’s Adelaide really shows off a lot of her face and body acting in the show’s pivotal parts.
And the more said about the usually-quiet-but-forward-thinking Evan Alex as the young weirdo, the better. Kid’s got a bright future ahead if he keeps up with these roles. His counterpart is as feral as he is playful. Heck, their red-clad doubles in the film act as actual bogeymen, with nothing more than grunts and their eerie and imposing figures to scare and shock us. Only Adelaide’s double speaks, and in a raspy creepy deathbed voice too.
The actors not only play their regular roles just like a family that eventually sticks together through times of need, their other roles as creepy mirror images with prophetic and off-kilter names like Abraham, Pluto, and Red steal the spotlight. After all, the worst kind of enemy to fight is yourself; this film hammer that point home to a tee.
More Than This
The film also hammers its message onto its audience with some form of subtlety; where we should not take the simplest things and easiest of conveniences for granted lest someone takes it away from us. The themes of class and privilege are mentioned and alluded in bits and pieces of the dialogue, from Gabe’s attempt at one-upping his white friend’s middle-class status to the dopplegangers’ reasoning for invading the main family’s house.
As soon as they revealed themselves to be “Americans” in the first third, the message and tones then take a crazy turn close to the end of the show. I’ll admit, I did not see the film’s expansion from its home invasion angle coming. I liked it a lot more for taking that unusual route, but its other revelations brought it back to classic horror tropes. In the grand scheme of things, it makes the entire film stand out though most viewers may need to rewatch some parts of the second half and open up discussions about what transpired post-credits.
Is this film better than Get Out? Nope, it isn’t. Get Out‘s story is more direct yet filled with subversions to many, many horror and thriller tropes. Us’ second half goes off the rails for good and ill, but at least it doesn’t flop the landing with its main horror plot of its family trying to deal with their literal savage selves.
Do give Us a watch or two; you may appreciate its nuances and subversions a lot more depending on how high-brow you want your scarefests to be. At the very least, Jordan Peele should keep challenging himself to do more of these fares while perfecting that balance of being crafty with filmmaking and being smart with his political views.
FINAL SCORE: 80/100