SXSW 2019: US is a Meticulously Crafted Slice of Surreal Horror

Jordan Peele embraces the weird with terrifying results.

Just over two years ago, Jordan Peele unleashed Get Out on an unsuspecting public. Its reception and lingering cultural impact were testaments to Peele’s abilities as a writer and storyteller – talents rewarded with an Academy Award for best original screenplay. His followup is less societal commentary and more of a love-letter to the horror genre, embracing a wild situation that only gets more off-kilter as the film progresses. We’re not just dealing with the horrors of our society, but the horrors within us all.

Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) along with her husband Gabe (Winston Duke), and their two children Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex) return to her childhood beach-side home for a vacation. It’s a place she has long avoided after a traumatic incident as a child. Returning, and determined to enjoy time with her family, she finds herself growing increasingly perturbed by her surroundings. Her fears are realized on their first night back when they find four strangers in their driveway. The strangers break into their home and the family sees them as what they are: twisted doppelgängers of themselves who have brought a reckoning to their home, one that may expand much further than their walls.

A homeless man spotted several times in Us carries a piece of card reading “Jeremiah 11-11,” a passage from the Bible. “Therefore, thus says the LORD, Behold, I am bringing disaster upon them that they cannot escape. Though they cry to me, I will not listen to them.” The film delivers on this verse. Us is a terrifying and relentless work. One that will undoubtedly provoke discussion and dissection, but on initial viewing is an incredibly unnerving work. Some elements are brutal, others supremely twisted — Peele even manages to weaponize Itsy Bitsy Spider, others incredibly insightful, offering commentary on systemic oppression within our society, success at the expense of the downtrodden, and the lingering effects of trauma. Some of the plot twists will baffle and bemuse, but the surreal nature of the film only adds to it’s allure. What keeps things grounded is an impressively built family dynamic. Lupita Nyong’o is a stunning, maternal, and often primal force throughout. Winston Duke becomes a benchmark for movie dads, fully embracing with ease the corny, endearing aspects of the role. Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex share a natural rapport with each other and their parents. This adds authenticity to the dynamic, weaving in natural banter and gestures, endearing you to them so quickly, and the investment pays off in spades as the nightmare ramps up. Notable in supporting roles are Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker, who take limited material and handle it with scenery chewing goodness. Each also portray their own doppelgängers, work that takes appreciation for their talents up to another level and gives the film elements of tragedy.

It can’t be understated how good Us looks. Shots, cuts, and compositions speak to a genuine understanding of not just the genre, but a mastery of film-making too. This is a film dripping with a sense of menace and unease, enhanced by a discordant score and some dope musical tracks. The script is as smart and sharp as you’d expect from Peele, but what might take you aback is how funny it is. Not just stemming from the characters, Peele exhibits devilish humor with numerous callbacks, quips, and applaudable payoffs later in the film. There’s also a hearty embrace of horror movie tropes that are exquisitely deployed. It all adds to what makes this wild ride so special. You’ll laugh, cheer, and shriek in equal measure, and Us plays like gangbusters with a game crowd.

Us is a meticulously crafted slice of horror. Twisted and weird, but grounded by a finely built family dynamic. Some aspects of the film are sure to be polarizing, but it’s undeniable what a fresh and enthralling experience it is. The ideas and execution here are a remarkable swing for Peele to take and only solidifies his grasp as one of the most provocative storytellers of our age.

Us will be released by Universal Pictures on Friday, March 22, 2019.

Previous post Hammer’s THE VENGEANCE OF SHE Comes to Scream Factory (1968) [Blu Review]
Next post SXSW 2019: Lupita Nyong’o Captivates and Decapitates in LITTLE MONSTERS