Us: A Review
Writer and producer Jordan Peele’s long-anticipated horror Us hit screens on 22nd March 2019 and is already the most talked-about film of the year.
Securing 94% on Rotten Tomatoes in under a month, there are talks of lead actress Lupita Nyong’o being in the running for an Oscar nomination. The success of the film should not come as a shock, following Peele’s previous work on Get Out and BlacKkKlansman, yet Us could not be more different.
This horror diverges from the norm, allowing the audience to be frightened in equal parts by the action on screen, and by their own imaginations. As the characters meet their ‘tethered’ shadows, it is impossible not to contemplate the possibility of your own shadow self, thus the threats posed to the Wilson family become elevated and personal. The immediate success of the film (making $33.6 million in its second week of release) comes not just from the phenomenal performances of the cast, nor the cinematography and score, but from the plot that consistently turns on its head; the constant surprises and the accompanying dialogue blends fear, comedy and realism seamlessly – something that horror movies rarely achieve convincingly.
The premise of the film and its trailer were enough to hook my interest. A young family head to their holiday home by the beach and try to enjoy themselves and, in classic horror movie style, their home is attacked in the middle of the night by strangers. Yet on closer inspection, it becomes apparent that the intruders are anything but unknown, and are in fact mirror images of the Wilson family- their shadow counterparts. Their origins and motivations are not fully revealed until the end of the film, but the morbid curiosity and horror of watching the two ‘families’ fight for their lives are absolutely fascinating.
Naturally, the acting in such a film would need to be flawless in order for the audience to distinguish (with some help from the costume department) the shadows from the ‘real’ family, and Lupita Nyong’o (Adelaide) and Winston Duke (Gabe) do not disappoint. However, I was left particularly impressed by the younger actors, Shahadi Wright Joseph (Zora) and Evan Alex (Jason). Their dual personas were so cleverly nuanced that whilst it was clear who was the shadow and who was the ‘real’ child, the links between the characters were obvious, and it was easy to imagine the shadow children as what the younger Wilsons could have become. In fact, I would argue that Zora and Jason’s shadows were the most terrifying throughout the film, with their expected childlike innocence completely replaced with sadistic aggression, made all the more terrifying by Zora’s shadow’s constant wide smile.
The plot progresses, aided by beautiful cinematography and haunting music, and ends in a completely unexpected place to where the audience expects. The film itself plays with American values, and our ideas of selfhood, whilst also providing several unexpected laughs. Peele manages to simultaneously shock and frighten the audience whilst seemingly mocking the tropes of the horror genre, through characters which act very differently to the stereotypes we normally see in similar films. However, these characters are more courageous, cunning and resourceful for a reason… but as I don’t want to spoil the film for anyone considering a viewing in the future, you’ll have to watch to find out why.
Us is in cinemas now.
[Photo credits: Keegan-Michael Key, CC BY 2.0.]