After I saw Jordan Peele’s Us, I thought about the movies I’ve reviewed so far; of the nine, six were based on real life people or events and one was based off a comic book property from the sixties. This year, some of the most anticipated movies to be released are the dozen live action remakes of animated Disney movies. Us is not only beautifully executed as a film, but it is breathtakingly original and inspired, and in an industry that seems to be relying more and more on nostalgia and well established fan bases, it was exciting to see a filmmaker take a risk. And for it to work so damn well.
The movie itself tells the story of a family who is confronted by their dopplegangers while on holiday at the beach. The mother figure of the family (Lupita Nyong’o), has been traumatised from a confrontation by her own doppleganger as a child, and seeks to protect her family while at the same time come to terms with what happened. Plot wise that’s all I’ll say; this movie is an incredibly original concept and the plot is half the fun so I don’t want to spoil it for anyone.
One of the biggest advantages that Jordan Peele has in directing horror films is his experience in comedy. The family is relatable and real and there are some genuinely funny moments. This approach has two benefits; the audience actually cares if the protagonists are hurt or scared, but also, the moments of comedy in between the scares lulls the audience back into sensations of familiarity and safety, so that the next scares are thrilling and terrifying all over again. Also what an unreal film for an actor to be a part of to showcase their range! I really hope Lupita Nyong’o is recognised for her performance in this, her depiction of the doppleganger Adelaide is horrifying and captivating yet somehow eerily graceful.
A lot of horror movies try to emulate the greats like The Shining or Jaws or The Exorcist, assuming that what makes them iconic is the jump scares. It’s not, and it’s evident in how shit the sequels usually are. Those movies have suspenseful screenplays, solid performances, and importantly, incredible musical scores and Us knocks all of these out of the park. The entire theatre and I were on the edge of our seats when those violins started shrieking in “Us”.
The best horror classics also have some kind of iconic imagery, whether it be the twins or the blood coming out of the elevator in “The Shining”, the Michael Meyers mask in “Halloween” or the image of the smiling Pennywise in “It”. Already the snapshot of the doppleganger family in their red jumpsuits and the shears or the image of the wide eyed Lupita Nyong’o bloodstained and carrying the fire poker could be considered in that same calibre.
There were some aspects of the plot which I think could have been simplified or done away with completely to avoid over complicating a story which already has a lot to keep track of, but that is a very slight misstep in an otherwise seriously impressive film.
Overall, what an achievement. Jordan Peele is definitely establishing himself as one of the best directors in Hollywood, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the horror genre began to shift because of his influence. Us is innovative, brutal, terrifying, thoroughly entertaining and I hope will make enough of an impact in the film industry for studios to take risks on more original properties. I can’t help but think what we’re missing out on.
By Jock Lehman