Jordan Peele is fast becoming a master of the horror genre. While Blumhouse create movies for the popcorn summer crowd, guaranteed to make the audience scream and jump on multiple occasions, Peele is crafting an area of horror which is smarter, more unnerving and ultimately more effective. Us doesn’t quite manage to recreate the creative success of Get Out but for the first half at least, it is equally as terrifying.
Peele has clearly understood that horror is most effective when the movie is dealing with a terrifying situation rather than repeating jump-scare scene. Constant loud bangs is exhausting rather than scary while Us creates tension through the characters which we have invested in and the bizarre situation they have found themselves in.
This situation is simple. The central family is on holiday at their summer home by the beach when their home is invaded by doppelgangers. These doppelgangers are “off” though and not quite equals with their scared counterparts. To give anything more away would be a disservice to the movie and the experience but the scene where the two “families” comes face to face is one of the most gripping and shocking you’ll see this year and perhaps in any horror movie of the modern era.
What this situation does lead to is some inventive and creative ideas from Peele. Peele never relies on the cheap scare and crafts scenes which slowly build and develop the terror. A chase through a dark lane leads to a creepy confrontation around a car while two small boys in a match-lit closet will have you on the edge of your seat. Peele manages to turn a well-worn concept of “house invasion” on its head slightly and offers something you haven’t seen before.
Us isn’t a straight forward story either. On its surface it is a simple survival story but beyond that is clever imagery, ideas and a message which should not be ignored. There are clever uses of background scenery, call-backs in scenes and dialogue and a twist which will stick with you long after the movie’s credits have ended. Peele’s comedy writing comes through too, with some very well-crafted scenes in which the family argue, bicker and act like a normal family would, creating humour amongst the horror.
The likeability of the family is down to the four key performances. Winston Duke is off the Avenger’s set and in patriarch mode here, and is a lovable father who brings heart to his role. The two kids, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex, convey the terror well, with their own sub-stories to carry. The film belongs to Lupita Nyong’o who is central to the movie’s plot and holds together the drama. She gets the funniest lines, the most kick-ass moments but also portrays the scariest of the doppelgangers, with a terrifying performance which sends shivers down your spine.
It is easy to forget that each of the actors has to play their evil equal but this is done to great effect. Each has their own individual quirk as well, which helps ramp up the scares and makes for some very compelling and exciting encounters as each of the family members battles their evil-self.
This terror begins to give way to another type of movie by the third act. Us goes from an effective home invasion to something else, something “bigger.” To explain further gives too much away but this change also alters the feel of the film and the constant feel of dread drifts away. Us is never less than intriguing and you will be gripped from beginning to end but the horror aspect doesn’t hold as well as it could if the story had been slightly more insular.
Overall, Us demonstrates Peele’s ability to write and direct effective horror. Us is a clever, compelling and frightening horror that relies on a dark situation rather than constant, easy jump-scares. There is plenty to revisit and reveal in a well-written, twisted story but it lacks the horror for the final third as the story begins to reveal itself.
Rating – 4
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