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Blu-ray Review: Us

June 19, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Jordan Peele burst onto the filmmaking scene with his debut film Get Out in 2017, radically deviating from his career as a comedic actor to establish himself as one of our most exciting new horror directors. The film became a huge hit, and Peele even received a much deserved Oscar nomination for Best Director.

Peele proves that Get Out was no fluke with his second film Us, another modern and distinctly original horror film that once again blends elements of dark comedy, thriller, and political allegory to offer something unique and at times visionary. While Us might not be as outwardly accessible as Get Out, it’s a work that is just as layered, fascinating, and skillfully made.

The film follows the Wilsons, a family of four consisting of mother Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), father Gabe (Winston Duke) and their two kids Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex). They are on vacation at a beach house in Santa Cruz, California, a place that carries traumatic childhood memories for Adelaide who grew up there. Their vacation takes a dark turn when they are visited by a family of doppelgängers who look just like them – and are played by the same actors – but with sinister differences. It’s here that the film begins to ask who are these mysterious doubles, where did they come from, and what exactly do they want?

This is the basic setup for Us, a creepy and suspenseful film that uses its intense home invasion premise to branch off in all sorts of interesting directions, with several twists and turns along the way. The film opens with a flashback to 1986 featuring our protagonist Adelaide as a little girl (Madison Curry), in which she wanders away from her parents while at a carnival by the beach, and ends up lost in a house of mirrors where she first encounters her double. This sinister and perfectly staged sequence, which has all the elements of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale, really sets the stage for what is to follow.

The influence of the 1980s looms large over Us, as Peele riffs on both the horror movies and politics of that decade. The 1986 charity event Hands Across America, in which citizens across the country joined hands to raise awareness of homelessness and hunger in what was largely a feel good publicity stunt, plays a huge role in the plot, and perhaps the film could also be read as an allegory of how the Reagan era created prosperity for those on top, while creating a whole new underclass of citizens waiting to rebel against those who are keeping them at the bottom.

The film’s stylistic influences are wide and varied, with Peele channeling the work of everyone from Alfred Hitchcock to John Carpenter and Wes Craven in any given moment, and packing the scenes with little Easter eggs for horror fans to discover. Peele’s choice of music is also inspired, from the brilliant use of the Bay Area hip hop classic “I Got Five On It,” which also memorably provided the backdrop for the film’s trailer, to the one-two punch of The Beach Boys classic “Good Vibrations” and N.W.A.’s “Fuck Tha Police” over one of the film’s most brutal and ingenious sequences. These songs are complimented by an incredible musical score by Michael Abels that mixes in haunting choral elements.

The small but mighty ensemble cast does a great job of grounding the film with their believable family dynamics, and making us feel the collective terror that their characters are experiencing. Lupita Nyong’o carries the film with a brilliant dual performance, bringing distinct characteristics and mannerisms to both Adelaide and her doppelgänger Red. Winston Duke is a likeable presence as the sort of “every dad” Gabe, and Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex both shine in promising breakout roles. The cast is rounded out by memorable appearances from Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker as Kitty and Josh Tyler, another couple who are staying in the house across the water from the Wilsons with their two teenaged daughters, played by real life twins Cali and Noelle Sheldon.

The film is so rich with allegories, (the Bible verse Jeremiah 11:11 keeps being referenced, either directly or indirectly), and other symbolism, (the presence of rabbits is a common motif), that there are multiple ways to interpret what exactly the story is meant to represent. It’s a story about the monsters inside of us, that much is clear. But on another level entirely, this is also a horror movie about trauma, and how unresolved traumatic events from our individual or collective past can stick with us, buried deep inside until they return with a vengeance to tear us apart. Without coming to terms with our past, the film could be read as saying, we remain tethered to our trauma, unable to detach ourselves from it.

But no matter how you interpret the film, whether as a straight up horror movie and home invasion thriller with political undertones or as a purely allegorical tale, Peele has crafted a film that is sure to be talked about and debated for years to come. His filmmaking throughout is confident and assured, and while Us might not have the same immediate payoff as the more crowd-pleasing Get Out and is sure to be a bit more divisive, it’s in some ways an even denser and richer work, and one that continues to linger afterwards. This is a disturbing, beautifully made, brilliantly acted, thematically fascinating, and at times darkly elegant work that only further confirms Peele’s status as a new master of horror.

The Blu-ray also includes nearly an hour of bonus material, starting with five featurettes. The Monsters Within Us has Peele and the four main actors talking about their dual roles; Tethered Together: Making Us Twice looks at the technical challenges of creating the doubles using the same actors; Redefining a Genre: Jordan Peele’s Brand of Horror looks at Peele’s many cinematic influences and his own unique approach to genre filmmaking; The Duality of Us is a fascinating piece that features Peele talking about some of the symbolism in the film; and Becoming Red shows us some unsettling footage of Nyong’o in between takes, as she remained in character onset while portraying Adelaide’s doppelgänger.

This is followed by a collection of Scene Explorations for three sequences (Seven Second Massacre, It’s a Trap, and I Just Want My Little Girl Back); and six deleted scenes (I Am Not Even Near You, Rabbit Season, That’s Badass, Driftwood, The P is Silent, and I Wanna Go Home). Next we have a piece called We’re All Dying, which edits together a selection of alternate takes of the beach scene to show us actors Duke and Heidecker riffing on their lines; and As Above So Below: Grand Pas De Deux, an extended version of the film’s brilliantly choreographed climactic dance sequence shown in full.

Us is a Universal Pictures Home Entertainment release. It’s 116 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: June 18th, 2019

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