SLIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD
How do you follow-up your $255.5 million grossing and Academy Award-winning debut film? You create an even more chilling horror destined to garner even more success. Us tells the story of a family that is attacked by soulless exact copies of themselves. Although it is structured like a home invasion thriller, Us triumphs by way of its range. Geographically, the movie stretches across the United States’ widely defunct tunnel system and echoes the forgotten failure of 1986’s Hands Across America initiative. Us is a horror story that reaches across two generations (from 1986 to the present day) of families and pop culture. Peele’s masterful grip on classism and the innate terror of human beings makes Us an incredible cinematic achievement.
The two best parts of Us are the acting and score. Winston Duke gives an excellent comedic performance as Gabe Wilson and the two children Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex) give surprisingly layered performances for such young actors. Elisabeth Moss has blown us away in The Handmaid’s Tale for the past couple of years, but her hilarious and terrifying performance in Us reminds us that she needs to be our next big movie star. Finally, there is Lupita Nyong’o. The 2014 Academy Award-winner for Best Supporting Actress (12 Years a Slave) gives a career-defining performance and one of the best film performances in recent memory. Like the majority of the cast, Nyong’o had to play both her character (Adelaide Wilson) and its copy. From the maternal aspects of her characters’ personalities to the bone-chilling and stuttering rasp of the copy’s voice, Nyong’o maximizes every minute of her screen time. Her performance is an absolute masterclass in acting and she should seriously be pushed for 2020 Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. Aside from the excellent acting performances, which are more or less a byproduct of the expert casting, Us‘ score truly makes the film. The ebbs and flows of Michael Abels’ compositions play perfectly with the film’s pockets of dark humor and unabashed horror. Us does not have a focal original song, but its use of Janelle Monáe’s “I Like It”; Luniz’s “I Got 5 On It”; and Minnie Riperton “Les Fleurs” help expand the film’s timeline and amplify the pulsating undertones of American blackness. Lastly, without giving too much away, nothing tops the instantly legendary placement of N.W.A.’s perennial “Fuck Tha Police.”
The slow burning pace of Us lends itself to Peele’s penchant for suspense. By nature of its concept, Us require meticulous editing, but the excellence of the film’s editing cannot be overstated. Like Get Out, Us‘s screenplay is a biting social commentary on the relationship between the U.S. government and private citizens, classism, and family. Many people will never understand the power of seeing a dark-skinned Black family as the main characters of a film with the mother as the fearless heroine. The casting alone is a massive social statement for original Hollywood films, but in Us this is just a family on vacation. This vacation is equal parts Halloween and equal parts Garden of Eden, and Peele’s screenplay and production design revel in that fact. Us is a straightforward horror film in every way that Get Out was not. It may be harder to get into Us because the concept requires a stronger suspension of disbelief than Get Out, but it’s worth it. Peele’s use of the evil twin and funhouse mirror motifs aren’t derivative; Peele reinvents them in a way that exposes our blindspots and worst horrors as Americans: blind trust and innovation. Us is ambitious and vast, but Peele conquers this new ground with his powerful pen and twisted mind.