Oh, those evil doppelgangers and their wonderful place in horror lore. Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Twin Peaks, The Thing and now Us, Jordan Peele’s extremely creepy follow up to Get Out. I ask you, what’s creepier than your double trying to slash your neck? Peele knows that it’s the ultimate nightmare, and Us plays upon it with chilling glee.
The film starts with a quote about America having many miles of tunnels underneath its surface, then a quick flashback shot of a C.H.U.D. videotape next to a VCR. A TV plays an advertisement for Hands Across America, and you already have all sorts of subtext before anything even really happens.
When a young girl (Madison Curry) in the same ’80s flashback drifts away from her father at an amusement park and finds herself in a darkened hall of mirrors, Peele immediately states that he’s not playing around with this movie. Prepare to be scared, disturbed and uncomfortable in a good way.
The film then jumps to the present day, where Adelaide and Gabe (Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke) are taking their children, Zora and Jason (Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex) to the beach. It’s the same beach we saw in the flashback and, much to her chagrin, Adelaide was that young girl who ventured into that hall of mirrors. She’s not happy about revisiting the Santa Cruz pier, but the husband and kids really want to, so she takes one for the team.
The family excursion quickly becomes the worst vacation ever, as another family shows up, at night, standing in their driveway. A quick examination of the intruders reveals what the commercials for this movie have already told you—the family in the driveway is a darker, mirror image of the stunned family inside the house. They aren’t coming over to borrow the lawn mower. They intend to kill everybody. Once again, this vacation sucks.
Us has a larger scope than I was expecting and qualifies as one of the better apocalypse movies I’ve ever seen. No question, writer-director Peele has been gobbling up zombie, slasher and isolation horror movies all of his life, and their influences play a significant part in his vision. The movie is a mind-bender, but it’s also an efficient, bare-knuckled horror-thriller. In short, it’s the whole package as far as horror movies go.
Nyong’o, whose doppelganger’s name is Red, gets a chance to play two meaty roles here, and she’s all over them. While Adelaide is a strong-willed mom we can’t help but root for, Red is a croaky monster—the only doppelganger that speaks—that comes with an unexpected level of pathetic sadness. She reveals plenty about why she and her evil-twin pals are doing what they do, and none of those secrets will be revealed here.
Peele fans know that the man—in addition to being able to scare the piss out of you—can make you laugh. Us is often as funny as it is scary. Duke is a crackup as the dad who can’t quite get it right when trying to protect his family. In a masterstroke of casting, Tim Heidecker of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! scores as Gabe’s smug friend. He’s the wiseass husband of Kitty (Elisabeth Moss). Moss does things in this movie that will always qualify as some of her best work.
When asked who they are, Red the doppelganger leader replies, “We are Americans.” Us might be scary and funny, but it is also unyieldingly unforgiving condemnation of American missteps, past and present. The movie is a lot of fun, but it’s also a heavy one.
Peele has a revamp of The Twilight Zone coming to CBS All Access soon, and Us plays like a nice primer for more twisty mischief to come. As for his movies, Peele is on a roll.