A great film lives outside the cinema, embedded in the viewer’s mind having just witnessed art transcend mere entertainment. Jordan Peele’s Us is this kind of film — one that lives inside the viewer as soon as the credits roll.
Peele first received credit for his serious filmmaking capabilities with 2017’s Get Out, an excellent film which addressed racial divides in a thoroughly unique way. However, for all that Get Out did well it struck me more as a statement and an enjoyable film, rather than a masterpiece as it was a bit tone-deaf and occasionally lost. However, Peele has not just managed to keep the strengths of Get Out on his sophomore effort, but rather delivered an even stronger product.
Us revolves around a family vacationing near Santa Cruz, where the mother (played by Lupita Nyong’o) had suffered a traumatic incident as a child. It is best seen without knowing many details going in, so suffice it to say this incident lives on and the family begins to be visited and attacked by strange beings who appear eerily similar to them. As the film unfolds it gets darker and more unravelled until the plot nearly becomes performance art, making the viewer question what they’re seeing and feel deeply unsettled as to how it pertains to them.
On a technical level, as well as thematically, Us is brilliant. Featuring unique, unsettling imagery, cinematographer Mike Gioulakis utilizes a number of atmospheric shots to set a distinct tone and provides grand presentation. Another highlight is the music, both Michael Abels’ utterly haunting, yet tasteful score, and its use of popular songs like ‘Good Vibrations’ as a genius backdrop to one of the most disturbing film scenes put to camera in years. While its editing isn’t exceptional, it certainly is not distracting, and its sound mixing transcends the already brilliant ambience of the score. All of the actors and the screenplay delivered by them are also superb, especially Nyong’o, who deserves a second Oscar for this performance.
Us is the kind of film one can watch dozens of times and find new details or interpret new meanings from. It is a film that asks us to question the shadows that follow us and demands to be read and interpreted like a painting rather than a provocative message. And like a great painting it transfixes its audience and asks them to question the very nature of what the real horror of the movie is: is it really gore or odd doppelgangers, or is it ourselves and a world of increasing uncertainty?
Not since The Shining (1980) has a horror movie transcended this genre so well. It is the kind of film I imagine will be discussed and used as the bar for good horror for years to come. It may cause a fear of scissors, a fear of what’s below, or ultimately what is inside ourselves.
Image: Universal Pictures International.