Following his acclaimed debut film, Get Out, comes Jordan Peele’s greatly anticipated new feature, Us. The Oscar-winning screenwriter proves to us again to be quite the scribe. The plot – a family of four, The Wilsons, being haunted by their mysterious doppelgänger family for unknown reasons – cannot be further elaborated without spoilers. Half of the fun is learning who the doppelgängers are and about their motives.
Peele’s script not only challenges us think critically with regard to the story but also as real-life citizens of a state. While we ponder as to what the hell is going on in this freaky world of doubles, we almost equally ponder at the hints of social inequality. Just as he did with Get Out, Peele succeeds through an ingenious and bizarre story and its purposely deceitful design.
It’s evident that Peele has a predilection to both mystifying his audience and humoring them. As a professional comedian, he knows how to land a punchline in the middle of dire times, and it gives him a standout identity. But when viewers are kept in the dark, wondering and guessing, is unquestionably when Peele is at his best. Us‘ other dramatic ingredients – suspense and survival – are no different from any other work of the same genre. The Wilsons run and fight for their lives for a good amount of time, and, though it holds our attention, mostly lacks ingenuity.
While still a relatively low-budget production, Us‘ estimated budget nearly quadrupled that of its predecessor, and it helps. A certain set design during the climax brings to mind those impeccably structured sets from the films of the great Stanley Kubrick. Peele brings back musical composer Michael Abel, whose track “Anthem” provides an epic feel with simple drumming and a choir.
Using the rendition of Luniz’s 1990’s hit hip-hop track, “I Got 5 On It (Tethered Mix),” is an unheard of idea that “creeps on in” to the horror scene seamlessly. Casting Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o as protagonist Adelaide Wilson must have been quite the privilege. As the evil doppelgänger, she darkly menaces each time she speaks, with an eerie speech quality that was inspired by the vocal condition spasmodic dysphonia.
The professionalism of every department is perhaps best exemplified in the film’s brilliant opening sequence, where a young Adelaide (Madison Curry) strolls through an amusement park with her parents. Peele’s camera closely follows the vulnerable girl as she roams off on her own with every person and thing towering over her, such as a homeless man holding a foreboding cardboard sign. She remains silent as all dialogue and ambience is reduced to background noise. Adelaide is dangerously transfixed in her own world, and we are right in her shoes, deeply anticipating an attack from the chilling surroundings. Her wandering curiosity leads her to something much more frightening than a Zoltar machine, and then the opening titles roll over the cryptic image of a caged bunny. And thus the stage is set for Us. With this sequence alone, Peele sets the mood and forthcoming motifs, incites the mystery, raises questions and, most of all, gives us a damn good reason to stay in our seats.
Advertised as a mystery-horror, just like Get Out, many speculated early on that the two would be connected. Although there is no evidence that they exist in the same world, Peele himself stated that “anything is possible.” Certainly, the two are linked in terms of their commentary. When Adelaide encounters her wicked doppelgänger, Red (Lupita Nyong’o), she asks, “Who are you?” – Red responds on behalf of the doppelgänger-Wilson family, “We are Americans.” While Get Out is a more obvious review of American race and social-class issues, this early line in Us drives our interpretations of the mystery at hand down the same thematic avenue.
By the end, there are ideas and images with respect to Peele’s social critique left for us to think over at the end. We finish with a concrete answer to the story that would have been best left less solidified, but even so, Us demands multiple viewings in order for Peele’s craftsmanship to be fully appreciated. As time passes, you will find yourself looking back and picking up details that went over your head. And so once again Peele provokes his viewers to dissect his film from multiple angles.