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Us review – Jordan Peele's brash and brilliant beach holiday horror
Peele’s follow-up to Get Out is a superb doppelganger satire of the American dream, with Lupita Nyong’o delivering a magnificent performance
A n almost erotic surge of dread powers this brash and spectacular new horror-comedy from Jordan Peele , right from its ineffably creepy opening. It’s a satirical doppelganger nightmare of the American way, a horrified double-take in the mirror of certainty, a realisation that the corroborative image of happiness and prosperity you hoped to see has turned its back, like something by Magritte. And though this doesn’t quite have the same lethal narrative discipline of Peele’s debut masterpiece Get Out, with its drum-tight clarity and control, what it certainly does have is a magnificent lead performance from Lupita Nyong’o, who brings to it a basilisk stare of horror. The musical score by Michael Abels has the same disturbing “Satan spiritual” feel of his compositions for Get Out.
This is a Twilight Zone chiller with something of John Frankenheimer or George A Romero. It opens with a playful borrowing from the spirit and the letter of Spielberg’s Jaws and there’s a horribly prescient invocation of Michael Jackson. The title is of course ambiguous: meaning either the snugly inclusive “us” or the US itself. ( An RSC group-devised play about Vietnam in 1966 directed by Peter Brook had the same title and the same double-edged meaning.)
Nyong’o plays Adelaide, who with her genial, good-natured husband Gabe (Winston Duke) is taking the kids for a summer lakehouse vacation: this is Zora and younger brother Jason, in which roles Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex are both excellent. The family is in a handsomely appointed cabin, which they have stayed in before, but Gabe is discontented. He wants to drive a little further down to the coast for some old-fashioned family time at the beach. Adelaide is not so sure. It was at this very beach resort that she had a horrible experience when she was a child – in 1986, the Reaganite era of the optimistic Hands Across America charity campaign. While with her parents at the funfair, right after her dad had won her a Michael Jackson T-shirt, little Adelaide had wandered off on her own and had a terrible ordeal. Now, as an adult, she is terrified of her own children straying from her and being “taken”. And she has cause to remember a sickening detail: a strange man on the pier holding a sign with the biblical reference – Jeremiah 11:11 .
The traumatised memory has stayed with her, although she has never spoken about it, and being back at this cursed place makes her jittery and on edge. On the beach, they are reunited with a somewhat jaded white couple, the Tylers (Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker), who annoy Gabe by showing off about being just that little bit richer. Their cabin is flashier, his car is a cooler model than Gabe’s and their rented boat seems in better shape. (Gabe’s is called “Craw Daddy”; the Tylers’ is toe-curlingly called “B’Yacht’ch”.) And so Adelaide and Gabe’s compromised family happiness, with its tingling undertow of material and personal disquiet, is shattered one night when they see a group of four people standing in their driveway, a group which seems eerily familiar.
Impostor syndrome is something that afflicts people who have fought their way up to a position of some prestige, while never quite being able to suppress the feeling that they don’t deserve it, that they are just fakes, and that they are taking up a space that should be filled by someone more deserving. Is that partly what Us is about: a whole nation of people who each feel a shadow of historical rebuke behind them? Or perhaps the impostors are coming back to grab everything back, having just been deposed? The demonic invaders seem to be attacking from below and at the height of the horror and mayhem, Gabe and Adelaide briefly discuss the possibility of escaping to Mexico, before deciding they are much better off where they are. Perhaps if America was in dispute with Canada, we would be getting a zeitgeisty horror-thriller about Americans getting attacked from above.
Yet perhaps these lines of interpretation are beside the point and what is important is the attack from within. It leads to uproarious scenes of chaos, as Gabe shouts to the invaders: “If you wanna get crazy, we can get crazy” – and crazy is certainly what they get, especially in the outrageous fight scene, which makes shrewd use of the Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations and NWA’s Fuck tha Police.
The fiercely charismatic, mesmeric gaze of Lupita Nyong’o holds the movie together, and I have to say that without her presence, the movie’s final spasm of anarchic weirdness might have lost its grip. She radiates a force-field of pure defiance.
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“Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them.” - Jeremiah 11:11
In Rodney Ascher ’s documentary “ Room 237 ,” four theorists attempt to explain the hidden messages in Stanley Kubrick ’s movie “ The Shining .” The ideas about what the movie is about range from the possible to the downright bizarre. One theory fixates on the possibility that “The Shining” was Kubrick’s way of confessing he faked the landing on the moon footage, and another obsesses over the details of the hedge maze. The other two see evidence that the 1980 film indirectly references either the genocide of Native Americans or the Holocaust.
Like “The Shining,” there are a number of different ways to interpret Jordan Peele ’s excellent new horror movie, “Us.” Every image seems to be a clue for what’s about to happen or a stand-in for something outside the main story of a family in danger. Peele’s film, which he directed, wrote and produced, will likely reward audiences on multiple viewings, each visit revealing a new secret, showing you something you missed before in a new light.
“Us” begins back in 1986 with a young girl and her parents wandering through the Santa Cruz boardwalk at night. She separates from them to walk out on the empty beach, watching a foreboding flock of thunderclouds roll in. Her eyes find an attraction just off the main pier, and she walks into what looks like an abandoned hall of mirrors, discovering something deeply terrifying—her doppelgänger. The movie shifts to the present day, with Janelle Monae on the radio as the Wilson family is heading towards their vacation home. The little girl has now grown up to be a woman, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), nervous about returning to that spot on the Santa Cruz beach. Her husband, Gabe ( Winston Duke ), thinks her reaction is overblown, but he tries to make her feel at ease so they can take their kids Zora ( Shahadi Wright Joseph ) and Jason ( Evan Alex ) to the beach and meet up with old friends, the Tylers ( Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker ) and their twin daughters. After one small scare and a few strange coincidences on the beach, the family returns home for a quiet night in, only to have their peace broken by a most unlikely set of trespassers lined up across their driveway: doppelgängers of their family.
Part of the appeal of “Us” is how you interpret what all of this information and images mean. No doubt the movie will give audiences plenty to mull over long after the credits. In the film, the Jeremiah 11:11 Bible verse appears twice before pivotal moments, and there are plenty of other Biblical references to dig into, including an analogy to heaven and hell. Perhaps Jason’s “ Jaws ” shirt is a reference to the rocket sweater the little boy wears in “The Shining” or it could be a warning about the film’s oceanside dangers. In the ‘80s scene, when young Adelaide walks into the mysterious attraction, the sign welcoming her is that of a Native American in a headdress above the name “Shaman Vision Quest.” When the family returns to the beach, the sign has been replaced with a more PC-friendly sign bearing a wizard advertising it as “Merlin’s Enchanted Forest,” a bandaid solution to hiding the racist exterior and the horror inside its halls.
As he did with “ Get Out ,” Peele pays significant tribute to the films that have influenced him in “Us.” Though this time, there doesn’t seem to be a consensus. As I spoke with others who saw the movie, we focused on different titles that stood out to us. For me, “The Shining” looked to be the film that received the most nods in “Us,” including an overhead shot of the Wilson family driving through hilly forests to their vacation home, much like the Torrance family does on the way to the Overlook Hotel. There’s also a reference to “The Shining” twins, a few architectural and cinematography similarities and, in one shot, Nyong’o charges the camera with a weapon much like Jack Nicholson menacingly drags along an ax in a chase. However, “Us” is not just a love letter to one horror movie. Peele also pays tribute to Brian De Palma with a split diopter shot that places both Adelaide and her doppelgänger in equal focus for the first time in the movie. There’s also a tip of the hat to Darren Aronofsky ’s “ Black Swan ” in terms of dueling balletic styles and a gorgeously choreographed fight scene that looks like a combative pas de deux.
This delightfully deranged home invasion-family horror film works because Peele not only knows how to tell his story, he assembled an incredible cast to play two roles. The Wilsons are a picture of an all-American family: a family of four that looks to be middle class, with college-educated (Gabe is wearing a Howard University sweater) parents doting on their two children. Their doppelgängers may look like them and be tied to them in some way, but their lives are inverses of each other, and their existence has been one of limits and misery. It’s one of the most poignant analogies of class in America to come out in a studio film in recent memory. For the actors, it’s a chance to play two extremes, one of intense normality and the other of wretched evil. In “Us,” Duke shows off his comedic strengths as the dorky father who often embarrasses his kids, and his doppelgänger is a frighting wall of violence with little to say other than grunts and fighting his adversary. If Nyong’o doesn’t get some professional recognition for her performances here, I will be very disappointed. As Adelaide, she’s fearful, trying to keep some traumatic memories at bay but putting on a brave face for her family. To play her character’s opposite, Nyong’o adopts a graceful, confident movement for her doppelgänger, sliding into the family’s home with scissors at the ready. The doppelgänger looks wide-eyed and maliciously curious as if she’s looking for new ways to terrorize this family. She whispers in a raspy but sinister voice that would make many people jump and run away.
A suspenseful story and marvelous cast need a great crew to make the film a home run, and “Us” is not short on talent. “ It Follows ” cinematographer Mike Gioulakis creates unsettling images in mundane spaces, like how a strange family standing at a driveway isn’t necessarily scary, but when it’s eerily dark out, they’re backlit so that their faces go unseen and the four bodies are standing at a higher elevation from our heroes, so it looks like evil is swooping in from above. Kym Barrett ’s costume designs not only supply the doppelgängers’ nefarious looking red jumpsuits but also the normal, comfy clothes the Wilsons and Tylers wear on vacation. Michael Abels , who also composed the score for “Get Out,” and the ominous notes from the sound design team lay the groundwork for nerve-wracking sequences.
Jordan Peele isn’t the next Kubrick, M. Night Shyamalan, Alfred Hitchcock or Steven Spielberg . He’s his own director, with a vision that melds comedy, horror and social commentary. And he has a visual style that’s luminous, playful and delightfully unnerving. Peele uses an alternate cinematic language to Kubrick, seems more comfortable at teasing his story’s twists throughout the narrative unlike Shyamalan, uses suspense differently than Hitchcock, and possesses the comedic timing Spielberg never had. “Us” is another thrilling exploration of the past and oppression this country is still too afraid to bring up. Peele wants us to talk, and he’s given audiences the material to think, to feel our way through some of the darker sides of the human condition and the American experience.
This review was originally filed from the South by Southwest Film Festival on March 9, 2019.
Monica Castillo is a freelance writer and University of Southern California Annenberg graduate film critic fellow. Although she originally went to Boston University for biochemistry and molecular biology before landing in the sociology department, she went on to review films for The Boston Phoenix, WBUR, Dig Boston, The Boston Globe, and co-hosted the podcast “Cinema Fix.”
Frybread Face and Me
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Kaiya shunyata, film credits.
Rated R for violence/terror, and language.
Lupita Nyong'o as Adelaide Wilson
Winston Duke as Gabriel "Gabe" Wilson
Evan Alex as Jason Wilson
Shahadi Wright Joseph as Zora Wilson
Elisabeth Moss as Mrs. Tyler
Tim Heidecker as Mr. Tyler
Kara Hayward as Nancy
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Review: Jordan Peele’s “Us” Is a Colossal Cinematic Achievement
By Richard Brody
The success of Jordan Peele’s 2017 film, “ Get Out ,” bought him time, he said, in a recent interview with Le Monde —for his new film, “Us,” he had twice as many shoot days. The expanded time frame allowed him to produce a work of expanded ambition: “Us” bounces back and forth between 1986 and the present day, and its action, compared to “Get Out,” has a vast range—geographical, dramatic, and intellectual. The movie’s imaginative spectrum is enormous, four-dimensionally so: it delves deep into a literal underground world that lends the hallucinatory concept of the “sunken place” from “Get Out” a physical embodiment. And it captures the transformative, radical power of a political conscience, of an idea long held in secret, as it ripens and develops over decades’ worth of time. “Us” is nothing short of a colossal achievement.
Structured like a home-invasion drama, “Us” is a horror film—though saying so is like offering a reminder that “The Godfather” is a gangster film or that “2001: A Space Odyssey” is science fiction. Genre is irrelevant to the merits of a film, whether its conventions are followed or defied; what matters is that Peele cites the tropes and precedents of horror in order to deeply root his film in the terrain of pop culture—and then to pull up those roots. “Us” is a film that places itself within pop culture for diagnostic—and even self-diagnostic—purposes; its subject is, in large measure, cultural consciousness and its counterpart, the cultural unconscious. The crucial element of horror is political and moral—the realities that metaphorical fantasies evoke.
Peele reaches deep into the symbolic DNA of pop culture to discover a hidden, implicit history that he brings to the fore, at a moment of growing recognition that the deeds of the past still rage with silent and devastating force in the present time. After a title card notes the presence of a vast hidden network of tunnels (as for abandoned railways and mines) beneath American soil, the action begins with a bit of pop archeology: a shot of an old-fashioned tube TV set, on which a commercial is playing for “Hands Across America,” a 1986 philanthropic fund-raising event that involved an effort to create a human chain from coast to coast. (The announcer’s voice-over says, “Six million people will tether themselves together to fight hunger in America.”)
At that time, a young girl named Adelaide (though her name isn’t heard until much later in the film, when she’s an adult) is visiting a Santa Cruz beach with her squabbling parents. The child (Madison Curry) wanders off, enters a beachside haunted-house attraction, and, there, walking through a hall of mirrors reminiscent of the one in Orson Welles’s “The Lady from Shanghai,” sees not her reflection but her physical double. After the incident, her parents find her traumatized, but just what happened isn’t clear to them. In the present day, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) is married to Gabe Wilson (Winston Duke), and they have two children, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph), a teen-ager, and Jason (Evan Alex), who seems to be about eight. The Wilsons are prosperous—they’re heading to a summer house by a lake, where Gabe buys a speedboat (albeit a beat-up, run-down one) on a whim. It’s not clear what they do for a living; Adelaide used to dance but gave it up. What is clear is that she now has an aversion to the beach because of the haunted house, which is still there, in a slightly different guise. Her memories and flashbacks suggest that the trauma from whatever happened in the house has haunted her for her whole life.
The Wilsons are black, a fact that, as depicted, has little overt effect on their lives. Avoiding the stereotypes of black Americans in movies, Peele instead knowingly depicts them as a stereotype of a financially successful, socially stable, and cinematically average American family. It’s as though they naturally and unintentionally use what Boots Riley’s film, “Sorry to Bother You,” would call their “white voice,” the voice of white-dominated corporate prosperity. (There’s even a wink back to “Get Out,” regarding the Wilsons’ utterly untroubled confidence in the police.) Their summer companions are a white (and wealthier) family, the Tylers, Kitty (Elisabeth Moss) and Josh (Tim Heidecker), and their twin daughters, Becca (Cali Sheldon) and Lindsey (Noelle Sheldon).
Back at their summer house that night, Adelaide experiences premonitions—she tells Gabe that she feels that her double is out there somewhere. “My whole life I’ve felt as if she’s still coming for me,” she says, and, on this night, she feels as if “she’s getting closer.” Moments later, Jason sees another family standing outside the house; it turns out to be four doubles of the Wilson family, distinguished by their matching red jumpsuits (reminiscent of prison uniforms) and tan sandals, their static posture—holding hands side by side, in the manner of Hands Across America—and their silence. The doubles soon burst into the house, facing off against the Wilsons while Adelaide’s double (named, in the credits, Red)—the only one of the four doppelgängers to speak—states, in a hoarse and halting voice, her demands.
No less than “Get Out,” “Us” is a work of directorial virtuosity, in which Peele invests every moment, every twist, every diabolically conceived and gleefully invoked detail with graphic, psychological resonance and controlled tone, in performance and gesture. Here, as in “Get Out,” Peele employs point-of-view shots to put audience members in the position of the characters, to conjure subjective and fragmentary experience that reverberates with the metaphysical eeriness of their suddenly doubled world. (Recurring nods to Hitchcock’s “The Birds” suggest a mysterious transformation of the natural order.) Exactly as the title promises (and as the drama delivers, when Jason identifies the intruders, saying, “It’s us”), the movie turns the screen into a funhouse mirror in which the distortions prove to be truer representations of the state of things—in the world of its viewers—than more familiar, realistic depictions.
A distinctively American vision is planted throughout the action of “Us,” with an explicit and monitory allusion to the notion of national destiny. As a child, Adelaide sees, at the beach, a silent beachcomber-prophet with a sign that reads “Jeremiah 11:11.” In that chapter, God grants people land on the condition that they keep their covenant with Him, but when they revert to “the sins of their ancestors,” they face divine retribution: “Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them.’ ” When Adelaide asks the family’s doubles “What are you people?,” the wording of the question (not “who” but “what”) is less offensive than it is literally ontological: Are they alive or dead? Are they zombies or robots or creatures from space or figments of their imagination? Red’s answer is “We’re Americans.” (Even the title, “Us,” doubles as “U.S.”)
“Us” is intensely suspenseful (it would be sinful to spoil its twists or even to hint at its scares) and moderately gory—yet the bloodshed rigorously serves the drama. It’s never there to gross out viewers or to test their threshold of shock or disgust. (And I’m squeamish.) In particular, the explicit violence provides a serious view of life-threatening dangers that compel bourgeois characters to get their hands dirty with the act of killing—it shows what they’re up against and what they have to face, and to do, in an effort to save themselves. Yet “Us” also offers that safety, that salvation, with bitter irony. (It brings to mind Florence Reece’s pro-union song “ Which Side Are You On? ”) It’s a movie that, true to its genre, is plotted with hair-trigger mechanisms that tweak suspense with surprises—intellectual ones along with dramatic and sensory ones.
With its foretold emphasis on tunnels, “Us” proves to be something like Peele’s version of “ Notes from Underground ,” complete with its fiery arias of torment from those whose voices otherwise go unheard. (There’s a relevant wink along the way at Samuel Fuller’s jangling masterwork “ Shock Corridor .”) The term that describes the link between the Wilsons and their doubles is called “tethering”—and that word, in its many grammatical forms, recurs throughout the film (not least, in repeated allusions to Hands Across America). The nature of bonds—social bonds, voluntary and involuntary connections of some people to others—is at the heart of the movie, the desire for solidarity with some, the intended or oblivious dissociation from others.
The movie’s many pop-culture references—whether kids wearing T-shirts for “Thriller” and “Jaws” or the presence of “Good Vibrations” and “Fuck tha Police” on the soundtrack—are no mere decorations. Peele’s radical vision of inequality, of the haves and the have-nots, those who are in and those who are out, is reflected brightly and brilliantly in his view of pop culture, current and classic (including riffs on romantic melodrama and on the notion of emotional expression as a luxury in itself). Mass media is presented in “Us” as a rich people’s culture, if not in the immediate origins of its artists, then in the production, distribution, marketing, platforming, and lawyering of the work—in the very notion of its valuable and ubiquitous legacy. (In the Le Monde interview, Peele cited the soundtrack as another principal benefit of his higher budget.)
“Us” highlights the unwitting complicity of even apparently well-meaning and conscientious people in an unjust order that masquerades as natural and immutable but is, in fact, the product of malevolent designs that leave some languishing in the perma-shadows. (Designed by whom? The movie doesn’t name names, but it winks and nods and nudges in a general direction that runs from the sea to the lake.) It dramatizes this world, but with a twist—one that (avoiding spoilers) risks overturning conventional values and sympathies with ecstatic fervor. Suffice it to say that “Us” reserves empathy for its unwitting villains while gleefully deriding their comfortably normal state of obliviousness—and the ordinary absurdities of the world at large.
The movie’s exquisite perceptiveness and its alluring details are part of a vision that ranges between the outrageously sardonic and the grandly tragic. It renders the movie, for all its suspense, violence, and moral outrage, as much of a joy to recall, moment by moment, as it is to watch. Zora, after wielding an improvised weapon in a desperate, defensive rage, wiggles her arm in fatigue, as if she’d just completed a household chore. Gabe, challenging the doppelgängers with a metal baseball bat, adopts a stereotypical black-dialect voice as if, by doing so, he could make himself more menacing. Jason, suspicious of his own double (named Pluto), crafts a chess-like strategy leading to results and images of anguished grandeur. There are all kinds of magnificently world-built elements that only make sense in the light of big, late reveals, such as a strange and bloody preview, on the Santa Cruz beach, of the Wilson family’s doubles, and Adelaide’s early success as a dancer (and her double’s ability to use it against her).
This world-building has a stark thematic simplicity that both belies and inspires immense complexity. “Us” is a movie that defies the jigsaw-fit, quasi-academic interpretation that pervades recent criticism. As much as the movie offers a metaphorical vision of the enormities of social and political life, it also offers implications of an inner world, a projection of Peele-iana that maps his personal vision onto that of the world at large—and that, in turn, calls upon viewers to receive that world as intensely and consciously and imaginatively as he tries to do. The results of doing so, he suggests, are intrinsically political, even revolutionary.
By Mary Lawton
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“Us” offers no easy answers, but indicts us all.
Full Review | Original Score: A | Oct 13, 2023
Peele crafts a story that sucks us into a waking nightmare, and along the way it touches on such weighty themes such as economic disparity, nature vs. nurture, and our propensity for self-destruction.
Full Review | Jul 26, 2023
Once again, Jordan Peele offers a thought-provoking, deeply layered, and incredibly suspenseful narrative.
Full Review | Original Score: A- | Jul 24, 2023
A devastating critique of the American Dream with indelible performances by Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke and Elisabeth Moss.
Full Review | Dec 7, 2022
With “Us” the aim may be a little messy, but Peele brings it together with sharp instincts and a better grasp of scene-to-scene storytelling and tension-building.
Full Review | Original Score: 4.5/5 | Aug 21, 2022
Peele has committed most of his film's runtime to an unyielding, scary premise that proves the filmmaker has his audience wrapped around his little finger.
Full Review | Original Score: 3/4 | Mar 3, 2022
Just like that, Us has confirmed that Peele has become a tour de force as a director in Hollywood.
Full Review | Original Score: 4/4 | Feb 18, 2022
It grips you immediately.
Full Review | Sep 30, 2021
Episode 32: Captive State / Pandorum / Mirror Image / Us
Full Review | Original Score: 66/100 | Sep 14, 2021
It doesn't pack the psychological punch of Get Out, but Us confirms that Jordan Peele's phenomenal debut film was no fluke -- and the praise he's given is indeed well deserved.
Full Review | Jul 13, 2021
Similar to his first film, Peele practically demands multiple viewings.
Full Review | Original Score: 4 / 5 | Jun 25, 2021
It's a film that confirms Peele as that rarest of things - a true auteur.
Full Review | Original Score: 4/5 | May 11, 2021
Jordan Peele returns with another inventive and ambitious psychological horror film.
Full Review | May 11, 2021
There's a messiness here, a beautiful anamorphic widescreen messiness that Peele seems to relish.
Full Review | Original Score: 3.5/5 | Mar 13, 2021
Us introduces so many ideas that it can be difficult to focus. But it's fascinating to watch those ideas emerge, contort and dance around on screen, even if they don't always come together to form a cohesive story.
Full Review | Original Score: 3/4 | Mar 8, 2021
An outlandish story but the powerful message resonates in Trump era America.
Full Review | Original Score: 4/5 | Mar 4, 2021
While imperfect, Peele and his team get enough right with Us to make it a worthy follow-up to Get Out. Combining popcorn thrills with thoughtful commentary is Peele's calling card, something that should make him a director to watch for years to come.
Full Review | Feb 18, 2021
Smart and quick witted, Peele knows when he needs to be obvious - title Us also doubles as US, as above so below/mirror image concept, in a pivotal moment, and when to be subtle - ok, not really.
Full Review | Original Score: 3/5 | Feb 13, 2021
The best advice I got before heading to the theater was just not to think too hard about it.
Full Review | Feb 8, 2021
Us is a perfect storm of horror, acting, and social commentary: a beautiful dark mirror that conveys a confidence seldom seen in sophomore efforts.
Full Review | Original Score: B+ | Jan 29, 2021
Review: Jordan Peele's Us Is Dazzling to Look At. But What Is It Trying to Say?
W riter-director Jordan Peele’s 2017 Get Out was a brash and intriguing debut, a picture that wrestled with the notion of whether or not America can ever be a post-racial society: Vital and spooky, it refused to hand over easy answers. With the ambitious home-invasion horror chiller Us, Peele goes even deeper into the conflicted territory of class and race and privilege; he also ponders the traits that make us most human. But this time, he’s got so many ideas he can barely corral them, let alone connect them. He overthinks himself into a corner, and we’re stuck there with him.
Lupita Nyong’o stars as Adelaide, who has overcome a traumatic childhood experience and now has a family of her own, including husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and two kids: graceful, well-adjusted Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and the slightly more awkward Jason (Evan Alex), who wears a wolfman mask pushed up on his head as a kind of security blanket. We meet the comfortably middle-class Wilson family as they’re heading off on vacation to Santa Cruz, the site of Adelaide’s childhood ordeal. On their first night away, they look out and see a family of four, mute and stony echoes of themselves, standing in the driveway. From there, Peele unspools a story of “shadow” people, long forced to live underground but now streaming to the Earth’s surface to claim, violently, what they feel is rightfully theirs.
The effectiveness of Us may depend on how little you know about it going in, so the spoiler-averse may wish to stop reading here. But it’s impossible to address any of the movie’s larger ideas without giving away key plot points: Before long, that shadow family has infiltrated the house, and now that we can get a good look, we see that each of them is a not-quite-right replica of a Wilson, dressed in a red jumpsuit and wielding a pair of menacing-looking shears. At one point a terrified Adelaide asks the other mother, a twin of herself but with vacant, crazy eyes and a demented smile, “What are you people?” “We are Americans,” the lookalike responds, in a whispery growl.
That’s a bright, neon-lit Author’s Message if ever there was one, though the idea of using a group of sunlight-deprived semi-zombies as a metaphorical element in a parable about class complacency isn’t necessarily a bad one. Are you and your family doing great? Do you live in a nice place, drive an expensive car, and have plenty of food for everyone to eat? Be grateful for it. But be aware that there are others who, through no fault of their own, don’t live at the same comfort level—or are, in fact, barely surviving. (The Wilsons also have close friends, Josh and Kitty, played by Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss, who have more money and nicer stuff than they do, a source of irritation for Gabe in particular, and another of the movie’s threads about class consciousness in America.) But Peele doesn’t always lay out his ideas clearly. Us isn’t always fun to watch; there are stretches where it’s plodding and dour. He’s overly fond of heavy-duty references, including Biblical ones: A creepy dude holds a sign that reads Jeremiah 11:11. (If you don’t know it outright, it’s the one that goes, “Therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them.”) The mood of Us is sometimes chilling, but even then, you’re not always sure what, exactly, is chilling you. Maybe it’s just the feeling of being trapped in an over-air-conditioned lecture hall, because there’s a strain of preachiness running through the whole thing.
One thing that’s unquestionable: Peele is a dazzling visual stylist. (Peele’s cinematographer is Mike Gioulakis, who also shot David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, as well as M. Night Shyamalan’s Split and Glass .) The movie’s opening, which details young Adelaide’s nightmare—it takes place in a ghoulish hall of mirrors on the Santa Cruz boardwalk—is a mini-horror masterpiece by itself, an evocation of the outright weirdness of childhood rather than its wonder: As the girl wanders away from her parents, in an almost trancelike state, she clutches a candied apple so shiny it’s like blood-red crystal ball—and puts us in a trance, too.
Yet the rest of Us is laden with metaphors, and they pile up so quickly that not even Peele can keep up with them. The movie repeatedly references Hands Across America, a 1986 benefit event in which some 6.5 million people joined hands along a route mapped out across the contiguous United States. (Many participants had donated $10 to reserve a space in the chain; the money was donated to local charities dedicated to fighting hunger and ending poverty.) In Us, the shadow people form a similar chain. But it’s hard to know what Peele is trying to say with that image. Are the semi-zombies of Us just less fortunate versions of us? Are they actually us and we don’t know it? Is their clumsy anger somehow superior to thought and reason? After all, it has unified them, while we aboveground humans are more divided than ever.
How, in the end, are we supposed to feel about these shadow people, for so long deprived of basic human rights—including daylight—that they have become murderous clones? Sometimes great movies are ambiguous, but ambiguity resulting from unclear thinking makes nothing great. It’s one thing for a movie to humble you by leaving you unsure about yourself and your place in the world; it’s another for it to leave you wondering what, exactly, a filmmaker is trying to use his formidable verbal and visual vocabulary to say.
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- Us is Jordan Peele’s thrilling, blood-curdling allegory about a self-destructing America
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Jordan Peele’s Us, its title signals, is not a movie from which we as viewers can be detached. It demands from the start that we recognize an uncomfortable fact: Out in the audience, we’re part of the story.
And it’s a movie about doubles and doppelgängers, so of course the title is pulling double allegorical duty. Peele is a walking pop culture encyclopedia, especially horror and science fiction (he’s hosting and producing CBS’s Twilight Zone reboot , which premieres on April 1). So there’s no way he named his Get Out follow-up without self-conscious reference to Them! , the 1954 sci-fi film in which a nest of giant irradiated ants threatens Americans from tunnels beneath New Mexico, a recompense (a voiceover at the end tells us) for the hubris of the atomic age.
The title also obviously signals that this movie is about us — first-person plural, audience and filmmakers alike — but with some additional specificity: US = United States. As one of the characters rasps once the film cranks into gear, “We are Americans.” Us is a movie about America.
Rife with symbols and encroaching apocalyptic dread, Us is a big, ambitious fable about how a society develops willful amnesia, then tears itself to pieces. Like last year’s Hereditary and the upcoming The Lodge , it’s horror cosplaying as family drama. But unlike those movies, Us ’s target isn’t intimate; it’s a whole nation that doesn’t want to remember the less savory parts of history.
It also works best if you don’t try to pick it apart too much and stitch together a coherent mythology. Us is likely to frustrate people who crave plot points that can be coherently explained and mapped explicitly, directly onto the real world. In this way, it feels less expertly crafted than Get Out , though also more ripe for rewatching, considering from new angles; your mileage may vary. And what people see reflected in the film may say less about the film than it does about themselves. (It’s no accident that some posters for the film feature inkblot imagery to clearly mimic a Rorschach test.)
But no matter who’s watching, the movie is richly entertaining and unnerving. Us is more intuitive than explicatory, more visceral than diagrammatic; it’s horrific in a way that hangs onto your gut when it’s all over.
Us turns a family trip to the beach into nightmare
Humans seem to find copies of themselves terrifying. Traditionally, seeing your doppelgänger means death is nigh ; in some cultures and times, twins have been considered so unlucky that one in a pair is killed after birth.
So it’s quite frightening when, at the beginning of the film, young Adelaide (Madison Curry) — a child visiting a boardwalk amusement park on the Santa Cruz beach with her bickering parents in 1986 — wanders away into a funhouse and, in the hall of mirrors, is confronted by her own self. Not a reflection of herself. A copy of herself.
In the present day, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) is on vacation with her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and two children, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex), at the family’s beach house near Santa Cruz. Gabe suggests they go to the beach to meet up with their friends Josh (Tim Heidecker) and Kitty (Elisabeth Moss), who cordially despise one another in between raising their twin teenaged daughters (Cali Sheldon and Noelle Sheldon).
Adelaide looks stricken at Gabe’s suggestion, but eventually agrees to go, though only warily. While they’re on the beach, Jason briefly wanders away, scaring Adelaide half to death. But soon, all’s well, and the family returns that evening to wind down and get some sleep.
And then, they see four figures at the end of their driveway, holding hands, standing motionless. They won’t go away. When, all at once, they converge on the house, the family discovers to their horror that these aren’t mysterious strangers — they’re the family’s doppelgängers, their exact doubles, except twisted, angry, and out for blood.
Us focuses on the broader social context of its horror
It’s a chilling premise that keeps expanding outwards, challenging what we think we know about the world of the film. Drawing on tropes from home invasion horror, monster movies, supernatural thrillers, and eerie social chillers, Us slowly builds the case that our greatest enemies are our shadow selves, the parts of us that we like to keep hidden.
But Us is less fixated on the individual psyche, more on the broader cultural and social implications of this idea, and how it’s shaped the way we talk, think, and act on matters of race and class in America. The family is hounded by their own doubles because of long-forgotten events they did not personally set in motion. America’s efforts to forget this history has led the country toward this apocalypse of its own creation.
This metaphor, by my lights, escapes being a little too obvious very narrowly. Peele largely manages to skirt potential clumsiness with the deft directorial hand (and punctuations of humor) so evident in Get Out . The film’s beats feel deliberate and solid, not ponderous. Anything could change at any second. Nobody is safe.
Each actor has the especially difficult task of playing themselves as well as their own, twisted double — even the children — and their vacillations from frightened to wounded to deranged are the source of most of the film’s horror; there’s nothing scarier than a demonic grin on a young girl’s face. Everyone is uniformly terrific, but Nyong’o’s performance as the film’s narrative and moral center is virtuosically creepy and heartbreaking, like she’s swapping out souls between — or even during — takes.
The cast’s considered, meticulous adaptability to their dual roles fits with the rest of the film’s own eye for detail. Everything we see on screen seems intended for us to note and consider, from the VHS tapes on the shelf next to a TV in 1986 ( Goonies , C.H.U.D. ) to the logos on the kids’ T-shirts ( Jaws , Hands Across America , Michael Jackson’s Thriller ).
The funhouse into which young Adelaide ventures is called “Shaman Vision Quest,” with a cartoonish Native American figure draped over the name, but by the time the family revisits the beach decades later, it’s been changed to “Merlin’s Enchanted Forest,” with no remainder of its racist past. A recurring reference to the 1986 anti-poverty Hands Across America campaign (which raised $34 million, but only actually distributed about $15 million, less than half, to the poor) becomes more and more significant as the film goes on. And an early shot slowly pulls back on cages of rabbits, stacked on top of one another; a sea of white rabbits is punctuated by a couple of brown and black ones. That’s no accident.
None of this is accidental. In Us , everything matters.
Us warns that a destruction of biblical proportions is coming, and it started inside our own souls
Of all of Peele’s deliberate choices, the doubling motif is the most important. It furnishes the impetus for the plot, but it shows up in other ways. A man shows up on the boardwalk in both 1986 and the present day holding a cardboard sign, on which is written, in crayon, “Jeremiah 11:11” — “Therefore, thus says the Lord, Behold, I am bringing disaster upon them that they cannot escape. Though they cry to me, I will not listen to them.”
The verse’s significance is more clear if you look at it in context, just as the movie only makes full sense with knowledge of America’s history-phobic culture: We prefer to forget the parts of our history that make us uncomfortable. In Jeremiah 11, God is speaking to the prophet Jeremiah about the covenant he made with the forefathers of the people of Israel when he brought them out of slavery in Egypt. The nation, God says to Jeremiah, has “turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers.”
Later in the passage, Jeremiah realizes the people are plotting against him, because they don’t want to hear this message. The nation has forgotten God and its history, and God has decided to give it over to destruction.
That’s an obvious warning for people who’ve forgotten their country’s history of oppression and bloodshed. What Us suggests is that, if we are headed for destruction, the destroyers won’t be invaders from the outside — the “other.” They will be, well, us.
Obviously, there’s no clear doubling theme in the verse itself (though God repeats the same warnings several times, almost verbatim, in the chapter). But Peele got a little lucky with the reference: 11:11 is, itself, a double of doubles. To make sure we get it, he repeats it on an alarm clock screen just before things start to go very wrong in the movie. And there are other doubles all over the movie: window reflections, twins, mirror images, and, of course, the doppelgängers themselves.
The key notion in Us is that our shadow selves, our reverse negatives, are not separate entities from ourselves — we are simply our own aggressors. A nation of people who prefer to erase their misdeeds rather than acknowledging and rectifying them becomes, quite literally, a house divided . It’s going to fall.
Which is why Peele’s callback to Them! , a 65-year-old product of an era feverishly obsessed with the follies of the atomic age and a lurking Cold War menace abroad, is so important. There are clear parallels — both films are about underground tunnels in which lurk dangers, created by humans, that will someday explode to cause our doom. But Them! , from its title, fingers the danger as something other than humans (and in the movie, giant ants). Humans created the danger, but it comes from creatures wholly unlike ourselves.
But in Us , Peele brings the critique closer to home. The fault for our destruction isn’t that of foreign agents. The poison lurks in our own souls.
Us opens in theaters on March 21.
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Jordan peele’s new movie, us, is out in theaters.
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‘Us’ Review: Jordan Peele’s Creepy Latest Turns a Funhouse Mirror on Us
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‘Us’ | Anatomy of a Scene
Jordan peele narrates a sequence from his film..
“I’m Jordan Peele. I’m the writer, producer, and director of the movie “Us.’” “There’s a family in our driveway.” “So here we have the scene where the tethered family arrives at the Wilson house for the first time. Jason, of course, says “there’s a family in our driveway.” A line designed, giddily, to attempt to be an iconic line, like “they’re here” from the “Poltergeist” movie and sort of help congeal this sense of an Amblin-esque predicament with a black family in the center of it.” - [heavy breathing] “What?” “Zora, give me your phone.” “I’m not on it.” “Zora!” “This is the point in the movie where I want the terror to really kick into a new gear for the audience. One of the techniques that I utilized to get that terror was that all of a sudden we go into real time. The movie before this has been going from some time dashes here and there. When we get into this moment where the four family members are standing holding hands outside, then we go into this sort of fluid — we use a lot of the Steadicam with very few edits. Really trying to subliminally signal to the audience that this sort of relentless, real time event has begun and is taking place.” “Wait, wait, wait, just one sec — Gabe.” “So we see Gabe leave. He goes out. He’s the dad, he’s got to deal with it. This is kind of like — probably pulled from my own anxieties of being a father and realizing, yeah, you got to man up sometimes.” “Hi. Can I help you?” “One of the things in this scene that really inspired me was the scene in “Halloween” where Michael Myers has the ghost sheet over him. And no matter how many questions he’s asked, he just doesn’t respond. The less response you get, the more impending and physical, I think, the threat gets. Probably after the second time someone doesn’t respond, you know one of you’s got to go down. [laughing] “A’ight, I asked you nice. Now I need y’all to get off my property.” “One of the pieces of this scene that works really well is we’ve got Winston to this spot where he’s code switching. You know, he goes back to some of his roots, as it were, to try and intimidate this mysterious family out there. That maybe if sort of reasoning with them doesn’t work, a good old fashioned low register, throwing some bass into his voice, coming out with a little swagger and a bat might work.” “O.K., let’s call the cops.” “Winston is just remarkable in this scene, and the audience really I think is in this tug of war between feeling the tension ratcheting up and the fear of what’s to come and the little bit of a comic relief of watching this kind of goofy dad who’s in over his head.” “Gabe.” “No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. All right.” “Gabe!” “I got this.”
By Manohla Dargis
- March 20, 2019
Jordan Peele’s new horror movie, “Us,” is an expansive philosophical hall of mirrors. Like his 2017 hit, “Get Out,” this daring fun-until-it’s-not shocker starts from the genre’s central premise that everyday life is a wellspring of terrors. In “Get Out,” a young black man meets a group of white people who buy — at auction — younger, healthier black bodies. What makes “Get Out” so powerful is how Peele marshals a classic tale of unwilling bodily possession into a resonant, unsettling metaphor for the sweep of black and white relations in the United States — the U.S., or us.
“Us” is more ambitious than “Get Out,” and in some ways more unsettling. Once again, Peele is exploring existential terrors and the theme of possession, this time through the eerie form of the monstrous doppelgänger. The figure of the troublesome other — of Jekyll and Hyde, of the conscious and unconscious — ripples through the story of an ordinary family, the Wilsons, stalked by murderous doubles. These shadows look like the Wilsons but are frighteningly different, with fixed stares and guttural, animalistic vocalizations. Dressed in matching red coveralls and wielding large scissors (the better to slice and dice), they are funhouse-mirror visions turned nightmares.
The evil twin is a rich, durable motif, and it winds through “Us” from start to finish, beginning with a flashback to 1986 at a Santa Cruz, Calif., amusement park. There, a young girl (the expressive Madison Curry) and her parents are leisurely wandering the park. The girl is itsy-bitsy (the camera sticks close to her so that everything looms), and she and her parents maintain a chilly, near-geometric distance from one another. She’s clutching a perfect candied apple, a portentous splash of red and a witty emblem both of Halloween and Edenic forbidden fruit. Movies are journeys into knowledge, and what the girl knows is part of the simmering mystery.
The Wilsons, a family of four headed by Adelaide (a dazzling Lupita Nyong’o) and Gabe (Winston Duke), enter many years later, introduced with an aerial sweep of greenery. The bird’s-eye view (or god’s-eye, given the movie’s metaphysical reach) evokes the opener of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” a film Peele references throughout. A true cinephile, Peele scatters “Us” with nods and allusions to old-school 1970s and ’80s movies including “Goonies,” “Jaws,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” (One disturbing scene suggests that he’s also a fan of Michael Haneke.) But “The Shining” — another story of a grotesquely haunted family — serves as his most obvious guiding star, narratively and visually.
[Read about Lupita Nyong’o and her work on the movie.]
Peele likes to mix tones and moods, and as he did in “Get Out,” he uses broad humor both for delay and deflection. There’s a cryptic opener and an equally enigmatic credit sequence, but soon the Wilsons are laughing at their vacation home. It’s a breather that Peele uses for light jokes and intimacy (Duke’s amiable performance provides levity and warmth) while he scatters narrative bread crumbs. There’s a beach trip with another family, this one headed by Kitty (a fantastic Elisabeth Moss) and Josh (Tim Heidecker), who have teenage twin girls (cue “The Shining”). At last, the movie jumps to kinetic life with the appearance of the Wilsons’ doubles, who descend in a brutal home invasion.
The assault is a master class of precision-timed scares filled with light shivers and deeper, reverberant frights. Working within the house’s tight, angled spaces — soon filled with fluid camerawork and bodies moving to dramatically different beats — Peele turns this domestic space into a double of the funhouse that loomed in the amusement park. After much scrambling and shrieking, the Wilsons and their weird twins face off in the living room, mirroring one another. Adelaide’s shadow, Red (the actors play their doubles), takes charge and splits up the Wilsons, ordering her husband, daughter and son to take charge of their terrified others while she remains with Adelaide.
[ Read Jason Zinoman’s essay on why this is the golden age of grown-up horror. ]
A vibrant, appealing screen presence, Nyong’o brings a tremendous range and depth of feeling to both characters, who she individualizes with such clarity and lapidary detail that they aren’t just distinct beings; they feel as if they were being inhabited by different actors. She gives each a specific walk and sharply opposite gestures and voices (maternally silky vs. monstrously raspy). Adelaide, who studied ballet, moves gracefully and, when need be, rapidly (she racks up miles); Red moves as if keeping time to a metronome, with the staccato, mechanical step and head turns of an automaton. Both have ramrod posture and large unblinking eyes. Red’s mouth is a monstrous abyss.
The confrontation between Adelaide and Red testifies to Peele’s strength with actors — here, he makes the most of Nyong’o’s dueling turns — but, once Red starts explaining things, it also telegraphs the story’s weakness. “Us” is Peele’s second movie, but as his ideas pile up — and the doubles and their terrors expand — it starts to feel like his second and third combined. One of the pleasures of “Get Out” was its conceptual and narrative elegance, a streamlining that makes it feel shorter than its one hour 44 minutes. “Us” runs a little longer, but its surfeit of stuff — its cinephilia, bunnies of doom, sharp political detours and less-successful mythmaking — can make it feel unproductively cluttered.
Peele’s boldest, most exciting and shaky conceptual move in “Us” is to yoke the American present with the past, first by invoking the 1986 super-event Hands Across America. A very ’80s charity drive (one of its organizers helped create the ’85 benefit hit “We Are the World” ), it had Americans holding hands from coast to coast, making a human chain meant to fight hunger and homelessness. President Reagan held hands in front of the White House even while his administration was criticized for cutting billions for programs to help the homeless.
In “Us,” the appearance of unity — in a nation, in a person — doesn’t last long before being ripped away like one of the movie’s masks. Peele piles on (and tears off) the masks and the metaphors, tethers the past to the present and draws a line between the Reagan and Trump presidencies, suggesting that we were, and remain, one nation profoundly divisible. He also busies up his story with too many details, explanations and cutaways. Peele’s problem isn’t that he’s ambitious; he is, blissfully. But he also feels like an artist who has been waiting a very long time to say a great deal, and here he steps on, and muddles, his material, including in a fight that dilutes even Nyong’o’s best efforts.
Early on, Peele drops in some text about the existence of abandoned tunnels, mines and subways in the United States. I flashed on Colson Whitehead’s novel “The Underground Railroad,” which literalizes the network of safe houses and routes used by enslaved black Americans, turning it into a fantastical subterranean passageway to freedom. In “Us,” Peele uses the metaphor of the divided self to explore what lies beneath contemporary America, its double consciousness, its identity, sins and terrors. The results are messy, brilliant, sobering, even bleak — the final scene is a gut punch delivered with a queasy smile — but Jordan Peele isn’t here just to play.
Us Rated R for horror violence, featuring scissors and a pesky boat motor. Running time: 1 hour 56 minutes.
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Common Sense Media Reviewers
Peele's bloody, startling, inventive horror movie.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Raises interesting questions about idea of doppelg
The family members (including kids) do what they h
Very scary (jump scares, etc.); also lots of blood
A man is affectionate toward his wife, kissing her
Several uses of "f--k," "s--t," "a--hole," "ass,"
Michael Jackson "Thriller" T-shirt.
Secondary characters drink a lot (wine, whiskey, b
Parents need to know that Us -- a shocking, inventive, often funny horror movie about doppelgangers starring Lupita Nyong'o -- is writer/director Jordan Peele's follow-up to his enormously popular Get Out . While this film isn't likely to have the same cultural impact, it's still quite good. It's also…
Raises interesting questions about idea of doppelgangers. But real message here is that movie portrays a rather ordinary, interesting, likable African American family with no strings attached -- which is very welcome. Also promotes idea of the depth of a family's love.
Positive Role Models
The family members (including kids) do what they have to do to survive, including killing doppelgangers in very bloody ways. They rise above an unexpected challenge, but their survival is largely about luck and brute force. A villain's voice is based on the disability known as spasmodic dysphonia, which has caused some controversy.
Violence & Scariness
Very scary (jump scares, etc.); also lots of blood and gore. Blood splatters, pools of blood, dead bodies. Characters bash doppelgangers with blunt instruments (baseball bat, fireplace poker, golf club, etc.). Doppelgangers killing humans by slicing or stabbing them with sharp scissors. A character is ground up by a boat motor. Character hit by car. Choking with chains. Character's leg injured by baseball bat. Female character handcuffed. Boy with burn scars on his face. Boy on fire. Children in peril.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A man is affectionate toward his wife, kissing her, hinting that he's going to have sex with her, and arranging himself on the bed to try to seduce her.
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Several uses of "f--k," "s--t," "a--hole," "ass," "anus," "goddamn," and "Jesus Christ" (as an exclamation). In one scene, song "F--k tha Police" by N.W.A. plays, with brief, incessant language, including the "N" word. "Bulls--tty" spoken by a young boy.
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Products & Purchases
Drinking, drugs & smoking.
Secondary characters drink a lot (wine, whiskey, beer, etc.) to comic effect; no hangovers or consequences. Character says he's "going for a smoke."
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Drinking, Drugs & Smoking in your kid's entertainment guide.
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Us -- a shocking, inventive, often funny horror movie about doppelgangers starring Lupita Nyong'o -- is writer/director Jordan Peele 's follow-up to his enormously popular Get Out . While this film isn't likely to have the same cultural impact, it's still quite good. It's also very scary and violent. There are jump scares, plus many attacks and killings with blood and gore. Characters use blunt objects on doppelgangers, and doppelgangers slice and stab people with sharp scissors. A woman is handcuffed, and children are sometimes in peril. Language is also strong, with many uses of "f--k" and "s--t." The "N" word is heard in a song ("F--k tha Police" by N.W.A.), and a boy uses the word "bulls--t." A man kisses his wife and makes silly comments and gestures to indicate that he'd like to have sex, but it doesn't go any further. Secondary characters are seen drinking heavily in a comic way, without consequences. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails .
Where to Watch
Videos and photos.
- Parents say (45)
- Kids say (139)
Based on 45 parent reviews
No too scary
What's the story.
US begins with young Adelaide enjoying the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk with her parents in 1986. While her father is distracted, she wanders off and winds up in a house of mirrors. The power winks off, and she finds herself standing next to what looks like her own reflection ... except that it's not a reflection. Flash forward to the present: Grown-up Adelaide ( Lupita Nyong'o ) is now married to Gabe (Winston Duke), with a teen daughter, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph), and a young son, Jason (Evan Alex). While the family vacations at their summer home, Gabe suggests going back to Santa Cruz; though the idea terrifies Adelaide, she reluctantly agrees. Jason is briefly missing, but otherwise the day goes well. But when they get home, they discover a strange family of four standing in their driveway. And they look a lot like the Wilsons ... except that they don't seem friendly.
Is It Any Good?
Jordan Peele 's horror shocker can't compete with its sensational predecessor Get Out , but it doesn't have to. Made with precision, intelligence, and humor, Us is inventive and wildly entertaining in its own right. It can be said that Us has something to do with doppelgangers, but just how far the story goes and what it all means is best left to individual discussion. It's like a carnival ride of crazy ideas -- it's startling and also actually sometimes funny. While Get Out had little pockets of comic relief inserted into strategic places, the laughs in Us , based both on ironic jokes and on the happy feel of relief and release, are scattered throughout. Any character in this film can earn a laugh.
Since Peele -- well known as part of the comedy team Key & Peele -- understands the primal, bodily sensations of both laughter and fear, he approaches the filmmaking in Us with supreme confidence. His camera never shakes but rather moves in such a way to hide or reveal information for maximum impact. He's as precise here as Hitchcock or Kubrick. He also understands the use of music and sound, merging back and forth between a chilling, chanting orchestral score and pop songs, each adjusted at just the right volume or tone. It's an undeniably well-crafted and brutally effective movie, but where Get Out created a sharp, satirical commentary on race relations, this one very simply presents a positive portrayal of an African American family.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the violence in Us . Do the blood and gore seem over the top? Do the violent scenes help tell the story in an effective way? Is it shocking or thrilling? Why? Does exposure to violent media desensitize kids to violence?
Is the movie scary? What's the appeal of scary movies ?
What is a doppelganger? Do you think they exist in real life? Could there be a "good" and "evil" version of a person? Why or why not?
How many movies have you seen that portray an average/regular African American family? How did this one compare? Why is the family's ordinariness notable?
- In theaters : March 22, 2019
- On DVD or streaming : June 18, 2019
- Cast : Lupita Nyong'o , Wilson Duke , Elisabeth Moss
- Director : Jordan Peele
- Inclusion Information : Black directors, Female actors, Black actors, Latino actors
- Studio : Universal Pictures
- Genre : Horror
- Run time : 116 minutes
- MPAA rating : R
- MPAA explanation : violence/terror, and language
- Last updated : October 15, 2023
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
Film review: Us
Jordan Peele shows he’s a master of horror in his latest film Us, which is “full of small visual touches and references meant to lure viewers back again and again,” writes Caryn James.
The underclass is coming to destroy us, and we will deserve it. That is the simple, overarching message of Jordan Peele’s witty meta-horror film, Us. The ‘us’ he aligns viewers with is a middle-class American family of four, the Wilsons, and ‘they’ are their doppelgangers. The disenfranchised doubles have been living somewhere mysterious, cut off from the comforts of society. This other mother, father and two children appear one night in the Wilsons’ driveway wearing blood-red jumpsuits and wielding large golden scissors, the better to slice up their counterparts. Class warfare has rarely broken out with such frightening panache.
Despite the film’s veneer of a social theme, Us is different from and less inventive than Get Out, Peele’s amazing debut as writer and director. That film was a scathing critique of racial assumptions and stereotyping, cloaked in comic-horror. Us reverses the formula, and works best as a smart, intricately structured take on that genre, with a message that is plain but never deep. Peele is masterful at the horror part, though. Playfully using classic tropes of the genre while channelling primal fears, Us can make you laugh and cower at once.
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The film starts slowly, which allows Peele to drop clues about what’s to come. Us is full of small visual touches and references meant to lure viewers back again and again to find more. In the opening scene, set in 1986, the camera zones in on a television commercial promoting Hands Across America, a real event in which people across the country joined hands to raise money for the hungry and homeless. Anyone who has seen the film’s trailer will instantly spot the resemblance between the event’s logo – a row of red cut-out figures, like paper dolls – and the red jumpsuited doppelgangers.
Other references are more obscure. A homeless man with stringy blonde hair holds a sign that says Jeremiah 11:11. He recurs through the film, but Peele leaves it to viewers to go home and look up the Biblical reference on his sign. (It is chilling.)
He is first seen as a theme park, where a small girl wanders into a funhouse hall of mirrors. A sign there reads: “Vision Quest: Find Yourself,” and that’s exactly what she finds. Little Adelaide spots her doppelganger, and is terrified from that day on.
When the film leaps to the present, Adelaide is Lupita Nyong’o, married to Gabe Wilson (Winston Duke), who adds comic relief as a sometimes oblivious guy who tells bad dad jokes. Their teenage daughter, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph), is always on her phone. Their younger child, Jason (Evan Alex) unaccountably wears a mask on top of his head. They are at the family beach house, conveniently near to the scene of Adelaide’s childhood trauma.
The action picks up when the doubles invade the house. Each of the actors has a dual role, and Peele has directed them with such nuance that the slight differences – the doppelgangers’ faces remain still no matter how violent they become – are more alarming than exact duplicates might have been. The film centres around Nyong’o, whose performance as the double is especially eerie. Her voice is croaky and halting, as if she has not spoken in years, as she resentfully tells a story about a girl who “had a shadow”. That girl was a princess who found her prince and a happy life, while the shadow was hungry and living in the dark. Joseph brilliantly displays the creepy look on her face as Zora’s evil counterpart. Like Nyong’o’s, her double’s physical movements are as swift and pouncing as an animal’s.
The family fights off the invaders in scenes that Peele creates with sleek precision. They try to escape by boat and by car. Adelaide thwacks the Others with a fireplace poker – always strangely close at hand in horror films. There are stabbings with scissors, evoking Hitchcock. The melodramatic music cues, calling attention to danger in the style of old movies, signal that Us is a meta-layer removed from those hokey films, that the urge to yell, “Don’t go down that dark road alone!” is a trick Peele has knowingly set up. Even as the scenes become a bloody mess, the film is always lucid, cutting from wide shots of corpses to suspenseful angles seen from the besieged family members’ points of view.
Peele keeps ramping up the intensity of the action, but then the film takes an unexpected, spectacular stylistic turn. As we come close to understanding the secret behind Adelaide’s funhouse encounter, the film becomes more imagistic, almost surreal. The music is thumping and modern, and we see young Adelaide and her double dancing in ballet classes. Those scenes bring the film Black Swan to mind, rather than slasher movies. The sequence is a revelation, evidence that Peele can be an exceptional film-maker in an entirely different mode.
Even though Us leans into its genre, social issues linger as subtext. The Wilsons are black, but their race is not addressed as an issue. The exception is a scene in which Gabe confronts the doubles in the driveway and deliberately changes his grammar to sound thuggish, using the image of the threatening black man as a ploy. Even then, the film leaves it to viewers to infer the comment on racial stereotyping.
Peele himself has been blunt about how the film deals with America. “This country, and how this country looks at the world, we have a fear of the outsider,” he has said, describing his theme. “No one really wants to look at their faults, their guilt, their demons.” By the end, Hands Across America, a well-intentioned event, has been subverted into a symbol of evil. The most chilling lesson from Us: you just might be your own evil twin.
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