by Quaye Dydasco
Jordan Peele is a stranger to nobody; stepping onto the scene in 2017 with a jaw-dropping thriller, he’s come back for his second film, Us. Now his first film, Get Out, was a satirical nail-biter that drew audiences in with its deep metaphors about race and mind control. In that movie, he was able to transform the typical “evil family in the middle of nowhere” story and elevate its value ultimately winning him an Oscar for best screenplay.
His second film, however, does not serve as a sequel or a counterpart to Get Out (no matter how many online theories you happen upon). Us is entirely its own entity that stands out not only against his first film, but every single horror movie that’s been made in the past decade. From a deeply reflective concept, stunning acting, and overall, a unique message, Peele serves audiences a new perspective on society as well as shines a light on a new type of horror film.
The opening scenes offer a vital piece of information that ultimately, explains why the rest of the movie happens in the first place. In short, a young girl is at the Santa Cruz fair with her parents and while they aren’t watching, she sneaks off and finds herself in a house of mirrors. In there, she ends up finding herself, but it isn’t a reflection, it is another version of her. From there, the scenes open to an eery sequence of images of white rabbits held in cages with a pungent red font depicting the opening credits. So far, the film already left an unsettling feeling in audiences with its haunting images as well as unanswered questions.
Then the movie opens up to the leads of the movie, a family that is driving down to Santa Cruz for a week-long vacation in which the wife and mother, Adelaide, is the young girl who witnessed her counterpart in the house of mirrors when she was young. This distinction is important to make as she starts to become paranoid while on vacation about her doppelganger coming back to find her and seek revenge. Well, as you can assume from the commercials, she was right.
Eventually, a frighteningly silent family adorned in red comes to their house in the middle of the night, and from there, a battle to the death ensues as each character must fight their own doppelganger that has come to claim their lives. These doppelgangers are a government project that was abandoned long ago and left to their own devices, they’ve formulated a plan to claim the lives of their counterpart who live in normal everyday society. In the end, the family on top rises victorious, but it wasn’t without some serious consequences.
Peele’s take on a horror film transformed any preconceived notions into what a horror film should be. Although his film was original, he wasn’t shy to take elements from other films like the Goonies, Jaws, and The Shining in developing his own narrative that ultimately created a masterpiece with nodes to other classics. Another unique aspect about Peele is that he’s not the typical movie maker- from his cast to his ideas, he does not stay in the bubble. Us is not a typical horror slasher film, nor is it your typical comedy film. He blends in various styles of horror, thriller, and comedy that doesn’t strike as being completely one or the other.
However, what really stands out in this film wasn’t the originality of his work (no matter how significant that is), it was the stunning acting and development of each character that really made this film stand out against others. Unlike other horror films where each character lacks depth and is consistently outsmarted by the audience who is completely aware that that room is not where you want to go. The characters in this film were smart as well as quickwitted, smart enough to outwit those who have been plotting to kill them their whole lives and tell jokes while they’re at it.
As for the acting, playing one role is hard enough, but having to play two in the same movie? Now that’s a feat. Adelaide, the protagonist, and Red, the antagonist, were both played by the same person, Lupita Nyong’o, and she seriously deserves some acting nods. Winning best supporting actress in 12 Years a Slave and starring in the critically acclaimed and Oscar-winning, Black Panther, Nyong’o doesn’t live to disappoint. Her acting was raw and honest in both playing up to the emotion in Adelaide protecting her children to the terrifyingly precise movements and titillating voice embodied by Red.
Initially being compared to Get Out, this movie quickly fell out of that dynamic as its own qualities stood out against not only Peele’s first film but all other movies in its genre. From the distinctive plot to the phenomenal acting, this movie alone is bringing back excitement to a what-could’ve-been dead genre. With Peele on its side, horror films may actually be finding their place on the big screen again.
Lupita Nyong’o shines in this film with not only stunning acting, but the ability to embody two starkly different characters in the same movie. (Photo Courtesy of the Chicago Tribune)