Directed by: Jordan Peele | 116 minutes | horror, thriller | Actors: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Anna Diop, Cali Sheldon, Noelle Sheldon, Madison Curry
The year is 1986. A young girl watches a Hands Across America commercial, in which 6.5 million Americans form a human chain to draw attention to poverty alleviation. It is not necessarily your average opening scene of a horror film, but with the knowledge you have gained after seeing Jordan Peele’s ‘Us’, the choice for this (existing) commercial is completely appropriate. Just like the scene that follows, in which the same girl gets lost at a fair in a coastal town and ends up in a haunted house, with the ominous banner ‘Find Yourself’, where she encounters her ‘reflection’. It should be clear: ‘Us’ is anything but a flat horror film, but it is bursting with subtle or subtle ambiguities.
The silhouettes and reflections are numerous and already cast their shadow ahead of what is to come, in Jordan Peele’s second feature (‘Get Out’). Without treading the slippery ice full of spoilers, ‘Us’ revolves around a family that one night has a family dressed in red robes on their doorstep. Where father Gabe (a hilarious Winston Duke) – the type of film father you can hardly build on in times of horror and apocalypse – initially remains polite, he soon reverts to clearly forced macho behavior: ‘If you wanna get grazy, we can get crazy! ‘ None of it has much effect: the hostile family invades their home fairly easily. Then the family also turns out to be their literal ‘mirror image’, in other words: ‘It’s us.’ Or as mother Adelaide’s double (Lupita Nyong’o) answers:
The moment the ‘mirror family’ makes its appearance, it is for a moment the question whether this will not be a tiring gimmick, but in particular the double, almost perfectly interpreted by Nyong’o, quickly removes all doubts. Terrifying, funny, and also tragic; especially with the knowledge gained at the end of the film, it is impossible not to praise Nyong’o’s unparalleled Oscar-worthy role. While Daniel Kaluuya mainly acted as the viewer’s alter ego in ‘Get Out’, Nyong’o is a much less reliable main character here. To the extent that the concepts ‘good’ and ‘evil’ turn out to be meaningless towards the end of the film. It is unbelievable how Nyong’o apparently effortlessly senses all shades of gray of her character (s) here.
It is a bit silly to constantly make a comparison with ‘Get Out’ – which was the first African-American filmmaker to earn Peele an Oscar for Best Original Script – but at the same time also inevitable. Because where Peele made no secret of his ‘agenda’ in ‘Get Out’, ‘Us’ is more ambivalent. Is it the silenced underclass that comes here to take revenge on the well-to-do upper world? ‘While you were served a warm, tasty meal, we ate raw rabbit,’ says one of the doubles, after all, halfway through the film. The fact is that Peele’s message in ‘Us’ comes to the surface less conspicuously, and that more than helps the guesswork afterwards.
Perhaps that is why ‘Us’ can best be classified as slightly philosophical horror: the film works both as a highly entertaining genre film (and offers plenty of gory), but can also drag the viewer into a labyrinth full of endless fantasies. The real fanatics can also indulge themselves with the countless references to other horror films: Peele again shows himself to be a great fan. In addition, humor and horror are perfectly in balance again, best expressed in the much too spoiled couple Josh and Kitty (played with apparent pleasure by Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss).
With Peele, horror never becomes just a simple exploitation: under all the violence, something always gnaws beneath the surface. In addition, ‘Us’ with an African-American family in the lead – unfortunately still unique – once again offers proof that the average viewer cannot be lured by white protagonists at all. In fact, the box office success of films like ‘Get Out’, ‘Black Panther’ and now also ‘Us’ shows once again that the conservative adage that films with black actors in the lead role sell less well is outdated nonsense.
And pay special attention to the masterful soundtrack. Never before has ‘Fuck the Police’ been used so wonderfully ironically, ‘The Beach Boys’ never came at such a bad time and a sublime remix of ‘I Got 5 On It’ functions as a crucial constant here. But the undisputed highlight is a beautifully choreographed and edited ‘ballet scene’, which comes close to the now almost classical dance sequence in ‘Suspiria’ (2018).
Here and there Peele is compared with Hitchcock, Spielberg and M. Night Shyamalan (insofar as the latter is still an example). But a filmmaker who produces two social satirical horror masterpieces in three years no longer needs to be compared with other grandmasters. Jordan Peele is Jordan Peele, and after two undisputed direct hits that is now more than enough reason to go to the cinema like lightning.