Oh, the difficult second child… Writer/director Jordan Peele made an explosive debut, Get Out, which grabbed the attention of the critics and audiences with its layered, taught thrills and biting social commentary. Peele went down in the history books as the first African-American to win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and he was also nominated for producer and director. The film itself has instantly become a classic and ingrained itself within the psyche of modern zeitgeist – and has anyone ever really stirred a cup of tea the same since?
Along came the trailer of Us, and it looked like Peele was at it again this time with an even more horror-based concoction, but – with a title like that – we can see where the firing line really was. Here we have a decidedly regular African-American family, heading off for a beach house holiday to Santa Cruz. The mother Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), meanwhile, has memories of her own childhood where she was presented with a doppelganger of herself in a mysterious Hall of Mirrors at the local funhouse. Soon, it happens again as the family of four (corny Dad, moody teen, quirky kid) are presented with a house-invading family of very creepy doppelgangers at the holiday home, coming to attack with a strange motivation. To tell much more would be going into spoiler territory so let’s leave the plot at that, but suffice to say it’s a super-creepy start to a film that from therein afterwards somewhat slips along its tangled tracks of exposition.
The positive note is that Peele is a very accomplished filmmaker and he produces some terrifying imagery and sequences. He uses music to unnerving effect and the cast are equally game. It’s fantastic to see Nyong’o finally get a role (or roles) to sink her teeth into after the Oscar win for 12 Years a Slave. Meanwhile, the supporting cast also includes Elisabeth Moss heading a neighbouring family, bringing along recollections of The Handmaid’s Tale. Like that terrifying show, the horror comes from the social complications on a grand scale and that’s where Peele’s film starts to get a little convoluted.
The film soon splinters off; after the doppelgangers arrive, we turn into slasher horror territory, where it’s violent, gruesome and scary as the family find ways to escape their captors. It’s accomplished horror movie-making and somewhat makes you wish for a simpler film once the explanations start to arrive. By the film’s final section, it’s reminiscent of the post-Sixth Sense canon of M. Night Shyamalan (in particular The Village), where at first it seems like an abundantly clever twist – but given a bit more thought is actually a convoluted and convenient move left-field that the writer has created which doesn’t quite stand up to scrutiny because it tumbles along within its own rules. If Peele had been content to just make an all-out horror film as that trailer first suggested, it may have been a worthy follow-up to that startling debut. Instead we’re left with this frustrating but unforgettable thrill ride that, despite its flaws, is still deserving of a re-watch to see how it all holds together in its own strange universe.