Two years after Jordan Peele’s Oscar winning breakthrough, Get Out, expectations were high for the writer/producer/director’s follow up. Whilst Us falls short of the bar set by Get Out, it confirms that its success was not a fluke.
With Jordan Peele’s sophomore effort finally here, we can begin to see just what Peele’s signature style really is. In the same vein as Get Out, Us is still a horror imbued with the kind of comedy Peele initially made his name with, as one half of the comedy duo Key & Peele. Such loyalty to these two genres means Peele’s films lend themselves easily to satire, and Us (as the title’s double meaning of both the pronoun but also the U.S of America alludes to) functions largely in this register.
The plot concerns a middle-class black family’s vacation to Santa Cruz. One day, during a trip to the beach the youngest son, Jason (Evan Alex), wanders off. He is found almost instantly but the scenario none the less leaves his mother, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), shaken. The reason for Adelaide’s restlessness is due to Jason’s disappearance, however short, resembling a similar trek she took as a child (Madison Curry). Leaving her family whilst at the same Santa Cruz resort years earlier, Adelaide’s disappearance ended in horror. Later on that evening the family is attacked by home invaders, proving to be mirror images of the family themselves. Despite differences in terms of physicality, it is evident that these are doppelgängers of the family when they are brought face to face, causing Jason to remark: ‘It’s us.’
As mentioned earlier, Us presents itself as social satire and it is in this respect that it never quite reaches the heights of Get Out. Get Out’s satire of racism thriving in even the most liberal of settings through the fetishization of black bodies was nuanced and focused. Us on the other hand is much broader in scope (implicating the whole of the United States from coast to coast) and because of that is looser and somewhat muddled.
The looseness of the social commentary could be read as a strength, opening the film up to personal interpretations more than Get Out allowed. For me, the film conjured up thoughts concerning President Trump, disenfranchisement and the threats to build a wall on the Mexican border. None of these links are made overtly by the film and the film functions just as well in my opinion if you just ignore any type of social implications for what you are witnessing.
In fact, the film’s biggest strengths are its formal qualities. The theme of doubling is fundamental to the story and this is felt on a visual level. Filled with visual echoes and beautifully realised symmetries (especially true in the first scene which takes place in a hall of mirrors), the film truly is a joy to watch. Opening at a fun fair, the film seems to be self-aware about just how much fun it is to watch.
There has been much talk about the central performance by Lupita Nyong’o and it’s all true. However, the entire family deserves praise for their performances. With the introduction of the second family, each actor essentially plays two roles and yet it is instantly believable that their mirror selves are fully distinct characters. What is remarkable about this is that it is purely on the level of physical performance that the entire mirrored family is distinguishable.
Whilst Us was certainly never going to live up to the success of Get Out it is an incredibly impressive addition to Jordan Peele’s filmography. Whilst it is not as focussed as Peele’s first film, it is certainly twice as fun.