Starring Lupita Nyong'o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss
Directed by Jordan Peele
A black family of four goes to their vacation home at the beachside town of Santa Cruz, California, where they get attacked by another family of four who looks exactly and eerily like them. Mum, Dad and their two kids (the actors play dual roles) have their own personal Bizarro-world carbon copies bearing murderously sharp scissors and hell-bent on terrorising and hurting them for some unknown reason.
Dig this — the boy double wears a creepy mask while scampering on all fours like a Ju-On ghost and the girl double gets a kick out of chasing her prey along dim isolated roads. And there's also an amusement park by the sea where a curious little girl wanders off on her own into a darkened Hall Of Mirrors that would freak out even Freddy Krueger.
This film is kinda like the spooky-reflection movie, Mirrors, crossed with home-invasion chiller The Strangers, and then stretched out into an extended Twilight Zone episode. By the way, writer-director Jordan Peele will be rebooting The Twilight Zone on TV. Man, it's enough to make a happy, tipsy guy drink all with himself, er, sorry, by himself.
Us is a really good and gripping psychological horror pic with a great payoff twist as it spooks us with Lupita Nyong'o's bulbous eyes of fear, grabs our attention and keeps us guessing just what the hell is going on.
Basically, it's more unnerving than outright scary and, okay, the ending may seem preposterous even for its very high concept. But here's a useful tip to tie it up — the intro, easily forgotten as the film goes on, says something about the proliferation of underground tunnels in America.
At points, sometimes awkward, most times uncertain, Us forces us to laugh in quirky relief too. “Who are you?,” the terrified, besieged mom, Adelaide Wilson (Nyong'o) asks the invader dressed in red overalls who's broken into her house and looks just like her but in a severely evil and demented way. “We're Americans,” the bizarre woman replies, lacing it more with dark truth than light humour. It's funny and scary at the same time as Adelaide, the kid who wandered into the frightening mirror hall in flashbacks, is as stumped as we are by her unnatural clone.
Here's what Us mastermind, Peele, has said about doppelgangers, aka exact doubles. “I love doppelganger mythologies ..... I was drawn to this idea that we are our own worst enemy..... we blame the outsider, we blame 'the other'. In this movie, the monster has our faces.”
You need to know this about Peele who's making very interesting stories about African-Americans right now. Deep down inside, he's really a comedian at heart. In fact, if you see his past sketch-comedy TV series, Key & Peele, you can tell from his topically-astute comic digs in those shows just how and where he gets his twisted dark ideas for horror from.
Now, comedians look at horror in a different and inherently smarter way from out of left field. They're not scaring us because they want to show off the ghost, demon, spirit or undead income-tax man. They creep us out because they often have something to say about our times — socially, racially, crazily or, ideally, all of the above.
Peele's 2017 debut satirical-horror flick, Get Out, nailed a screenplay Oscar for turning the black guy-white chick interracial experience into a hidden and sinister Stepford Wives-style conspiracy. Over here in Us, I think he's saying something about this divided moment in America where decency and goodness get dumped into the dustbin as the true, decidedly meaner faces of people, previously submerged for political correctness, are emerging wholesale out of the wicked shadows. He's proffering a what-if theory about a secretive shock literally from out of the bowels of the earth.
Seriously, when was the last time you saw a good black family pulverise a bad white family with skewers, golf clubs and acute pleasure in such a satisfying payback manner it affirms truly that Black Lives Matter? I'm not going to give the plot away. Let's just say that those black doppelgangers aren't the only game in town.
“Once upon a time, there was a girl and there was a shadow and they were connected… the shadow hated the girl for so long,” Adelaide's replica, the main double here, croaks in a creepy zombie-fied voice which should win Oscar winner Nyong'o another trophy for Best Freak Voice.
Maybe it comes from Peele's experience of being left alone to face the unknown on the stand-up comic stage. Because the director shows a deft hand here in making us feel mainly disturbed but not perturbed.
We want to know the truth behind this nefarious double trouble even as it clunks on. And this movie does clunk on with pronounced bits of stuck-in-the-grind.
With none more clunky and chunky than Winston Duke (Black Panther) as Gabe, Adelaide's clueless, clumsy big lug of a husband who's armed with a baseball bat primarily for comic relief. “How about this? I bring you to the ATM,” he tries to reason with the invaders, thinking they're looking for money.
Which means that everything serious and effective here is left to the overworked mum, Adelaide. Both Nyong'o and the little girl, Madison Curry, who plays her traumatised younger self in flashbacks are simply terrific. And both have the requisite widening eyes to turn Jordan Peele's horror tale here into a fun double dose of giant peepers.
Every time they stare directly at us with eyes trembling in terror, man, we'd wish we have 10 lookalikes of our own to keep us company. (***1/2)