There is almost nothing I can tell you about Jordan Peele’s Us that won’t spoil something about the film. Here’s what I can say – Peele is as talented a storyteller as we have in horror right now. There were some who debated whether Get Out was horror, despite a clear lineage to Rosemary’s Baby and the Stepford Wives. There will be no such debate with Us. Yes, it’s incredibly fun. Peele’s comic timing as a director is impeccable, and there are times when Us feels like a higher-stakes installment in the Vacation franchise. And the audience at the preview I saw, sponsored by the Salem Horror Fest, laughed frequently. Sometimes in odd places.
But there is blood, and there is a body count. Peele gets the comedy and the horror right. And if you can do that, it’s hard to beat for your entertainment dollar. The design and concept of the “tethered” (well, there’s your first spoiler) is terrifying. Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, and Evan Alex were nimble in dual performances, playing themselves scaring themselves.
The main source of tension comes from each character trying to outsmart a version of themselves, someone who knows how they think, who can always guess their next move. Peele plants a lot of seeds in the first act that pay off wonderfully when the action start. He plays up the differences between each member of the family and their doppelganger for both suspense and laughs. The Wilsons are like any family you know. Gabe is the dad who wants everyone to have a good time, and he doesn’t hesitate to step up when his family is trouble. Adelaide is the protective mother. Zora is the smart, willful daughter, and Jason loves to torture and irritate her on car trips.
You’ve seen the first encounter in the trailer, so I don’t feel guilty bringing it up. The image of the Wilson family’s others, standing still in the driveway as Gabe tries to scare them away, is a beautiful horror movie moment. When they start moving, it’s thrilling. They all have their own horrifying tics. Jason’s other, Pluto is the most feral. Just the sound of him is chilling. Abraham, Duke’s other, is all grunts and muscle. Umbrae, Zora’s other, has a smile that lets you know she has plans for you, and you won’t like them.
Nyong’o is especially fierce as Adelaide, defending her family from the evil ringleader, Red. You will remember Red’s voice. That’s about as far as I can go, other than to tell you that Red and Adelaide are well matched in their fury. Like Climax, which I reviewed earlier this week, Us shows how you don’t have to scratch too far below the surface to get to a human being’s basest instincts.
So why are there doppelgangers in the first place? Well, it’s complicated. There’s a carnival involved. And tunnels. Keep the opening text in mind when the Minnie Riperton music starts at the end. It might be giving too much away just to say that Peele has plenty of surprises to offer. The story is not what I expected, a home invasion horror movie with a twist. And I’m glad it’s not just that. And if this is a preview of what we’re in for when the new Twilight Zone starts in less than two weeks, I can’t wait.