With his directorial debut Get Out, Jordan Peele presented us with a searing, satirical portrait of liberal racism in America. Now, with his sophomore effort Us, he takes another look into the darkest facets of people’s souls. Us may seem like a home-invasion thriller with effective jump scares. But at its core, it’s really about the beast within ourselves that we desperately try to keep hidden.
When the Wilson family goes on vacation only for it to be disrupted by their doppelgangers, they must literally come face to face with manifestations of the darkness within them. It’s unclear what exactly the doppelgangers represent. Are they a reflection of mental illness? Because the doppelgangers talk about finally rising up, are they a symbol of the underprivileged rebelling against the upper class? Due to the symbolic nature of the doppelgangers being slightly unclear, that gives the viewers plenty to unpack.
Not to mention, the actors playing dual roles gives them plenty of material to work with. Especially Lupita Nyong’o as Adelaide, the matriarch of the family. Nyong’o plays a woman with a rather dark past that slowly catches up with her. As Adelaide senses her past creeping back, Nyong’o maps out her paralytic fear with astute silence while giving her a slight mystique. Plus, she’s super creepy as Red, Adelaide’s raspy-voiced doppelganger. It’s quite literally a multi-faceted performance from the Oscar-winning actress. In all honesty, it’s a performance that should put her in the running for Oscar Nomination #2.
Meanwhile, Winston Duke is terrific as Adelaide’s husband Gabe. Last year, Duke made his breakthrough in Black Panther as M’Baku and similarly proves that he’s a definite star in the making in this. He is effortlessly charismatic as the “cool dad” archetype and acts as a source of comic relief. As a result, his performance remains in sync with Jordan Peele’s horror-comedy sensibilities.
Also, the actors who play the children, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex, do a great job at helping create a genuine family dynamic. The key to any good scary movie is setting up the characters so that we’re sure we want to go on the treacherous journey with them. But the actors portraying the family expertly do so.
In addition, Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker have supporting roles as the Tylers, a catty couple the Wilsons are friends with. Their roles are rather small but they do leave an impression. Especially Elisabeth Moss as Kitty, an overbearingly airy wife and mother. The couple being woven into the storyline opens up a layer of class and privilege since Gabe talks about coveting the riches the Tylers possess. Admittedly, this topic is not explored deep enough but it’s still an effective dissection of the topic at hand. Plus, because the topic of privilege isn’t dug into, it plays into the aforementioned ambiguity of what the doppelgangers symbolize.
With Us, another simplistic yet petrifying demonstration of the confrontational, Jordan Peele has announced himself as a master of horror. It is extremely well-acted while discomforting thanks to its horrific ambiguity. As the tagline suggests, we are our own worst enemy and Us reminds us that sometimes, the ugly parts of our souls and personas do come to the surface. We can try to force them to stay hidden so we can stay pure. But someway or somehow, darkness always finds its way.