So much horror these days is of the slow burn/jump scare variety. When done right, I am a huge fan of these types of films, yet sometimes I long for a good ol’ scare-a-thon that doesn’t keep you guessing when the shit is going to finally hit the fan. Offering the perfect antidote to this trend, Jordan Peele hits it out of the park once again with his in-your-face high concept horror film US.
The story begins in 1986 with your run-of-the-mill family visit to the Santa Cruz boardwalk amusement park. When young Adelaide strays from her distracted father, she wanders into a most mysterious and frightening predicament in a darkened hall of mirrors where she sees more than just her reflection. Flash forward to Adelaide’s adulthood as her family of four vacations in her childhood home close to the dreaded boardwalk. After begrudgingly agreeing to revisit the same beach with her husband, teenage daughter, and young son, Adelaide finally shares the story of the life-changing terror she endured all those years ago. The beach outing goes off with only a minor scare when little Jason meanders on his way back from the bathroom. Ironically, it is back in the safety of their vacation home later that night when things take a weird and menacing turn. Adelaide’s earlier misgivings appear to be completely validated as the family is thrust into a fight for their lives against another family of doppelgänger evil twin versions of themselves.
Peele wastes no time getting to the good stuff in his follow up to his mega hit GET OUT. After the creepy opening sequence, he pretty much follows the formula with a more lighthearted and humorous series of scenes. Flash backs to Adelaide’s childhood creepiness keeps the the vibe on edge before Peele hits us square in the scares as soon as the first act establishes the characters. And then we’re off! Peele doesn’t let up on the accelerator for the rest of the film as each family member endures their own personal battle royale.
While the film pulls no punches when it comes to the jumps and gore, the story is also still sprinkled with moments that are ridiculously funny for what is otherwise a pretty straight-up horror film. This mix creates a delicious balance of shock and relief that keeps the film enticing even at its darkest moments.
Aside from the viscerally scary elements Peele crams into every frame, there is also an underlying commentary on the haves and the have nots. I don’t want to go into too much detail in order to keep this spoiler-free, but there is just as much going on under the surface in US as there is up on the blood spattered screen. From window, TV, and mirror reflections to the family members’ looming shadows as they march across the beach, Peele maintains the duplicity concept visually throughout the film as well.
The performances in US are as genuine as they are fascinating as each actor takes on dual roles.
As Gabe, the patriarch of the family, Winston Duke provides the majority of the much-needed comic relief in the sinister story. He shows incredible range going back and forth between humor and dread, and perfectly grounds every sequence with his assured presence.
As Adelaide’s children, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex are so, so great as the phone-addicted teen and the socially awkward boy, respectively. But when you see the about-face these kids undergo with their uber-creepy alter egos, the real horror of the film is crystallized.
Lupita Nyong’o’s double performance is undoubtably the showstopper of the film. She navigates the dual roles of the tortured and the tormentor with an incredible amount of depth, nuance, and, ultimately, utter terror.
While some of the high concept themes in the third act (again, no spoilers) might be a tough sell for some audiences, I absolutely love that- much like with GET OUT- Peele fully commits to such a bizarre and mind bending story arc. This is fantasy/horror storytelling harkening back to Hitchcockian and Twilight Zone fare that requires a complete suspension of disbelief. There are lots of unanswered questions at the movie’s end, and that’s ok. Sometimes the best stories defy some level of logic and simply ask an audience to imagine the what ifs, and I am totally onboard.
The film opens in theater nationwide on 3/21. If you are a fan of the genre or a follower of Peele’s subversive storytelling style, US is not to be missed.
Thanks for reading,
Aka Annette Kellerman