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Us (2019) written and directed by Jordan Peele

The family who gets to know… themselves!

This horror-fantasy begins in Santa Cruz, California during 1986. A young African-American girl named Adelaide (Madison Curry) is taken by her parents to a beachside boardwalk as a birthday treat. At one point, she decides to wander off on her own and decides to enter a hall of mirrors. When the exit sign is confusingly reflected back at her multiple times, she quickly gets lost. Things really turn scary, however, when she encounters herself. Not a mere reflection either; another person who looks exactly like her.

Fast-forward to present day, and the adult Adelaide (played by Lupita Nyong’o) is now happily married with husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and two children: Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex). They go on a vacation to a remote cabin not far from Santa Cruz, where they meet up with their friends Kitty (Elisabeth Moss), Josh (Tim Heidecker), and their identical twin daughters Becca (Cali Sheldon) and Lindsey (Noelle Sheldon).

Things start to take a turn for the weird, however, when they head back to the boardwalk where Adelaide had her inexplicable encounter all those years ago. Firstly, as they arrive they see the mutilated, lifeless body of an old beach bum being carted into an ambulance. Secondly, when Jason follows in his mother’s footsteps by also wandering off on his own, he spots a mysterious figure with a bloodied hand. While understandably shaken by their experiences, they try to brush them off when they go back to their cabin.

Unfortunately, these creepy occurrences are a harbinger of things to come as they are visited that night by a family who look exactly like they do - albeit with a distinct streak of the savage.

Watch a trailer:

A sophomore effort that lives up to expectations

Get Out (2017) was most certainly an auspicious debut for writer/director Jordan Peele. Firstly, it played a significant part in the recent resuscitation of the horror genre by proving that effective chills could be married to a subversive message. Secondly, it received four Academy Award nominations, bagging a Best Original Screenplay statuette for Peele (who became the first ever African-American to win in this category). As such, the hype and anticipation behind this sophomore effort could not have been greater.

Thankfully, it not only lives up to expectations but, arguably, even surpasses them. As with its predecessor, it takes a fairly standard genre setup, handles it with genuine style and then, ultimately, turns preconception on its head with a most discomfiting message (albeit quite different in nature from that in the former film). However, its overall feel is more broad and extravagant in scope: one part George Romero social breakdown nightmare (The Crazies, the Dead movies), one part feral video nasty (in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre manner) and one part colourfully nightmarish fairytale (like Dario Argento’s Suspiria and Inferno), albeit forming its own coherent style out of these composite elements.

Indeed, it’s a film confident enough to wear its references on its sleeve knowing full well that risks derision by doing so. Take the stylish opening shot of a television surrounded by VHS tapes of such films as The Goonies. In itself, it’s derivative of a similar opening in Gaspar Noé’s Climax. However, the way in which it establishes crucial story details is smart and economical. The camerawork and overall directorial approach continue to display grace and careful design throughout, creating an effective atmosphere of unease with almost surgical precision.

There’s a lot of violence here (a good deal of which makes use of scissors for a metaphorical reason which becomes clear near the end) but its depiction is relatively low-key, preferring to show most of it either in long shot or leaving the grislier details off-camera. This approach only makes it all the more impactful. On the other side of the coin, there’s also a lot of humour. Moreover, it manages to be genuinely funny without undercutting the terror. While much of it is provided by Winston Duke as the smart-mouthed husband, there’s also a hilarious jab at Amazon’s pesky Alexa that provides one of the film’s best moments.

Evan Alex in Us (2019)

The cast also fare commendably well in portraying two distinct incarnations of each character, often within the same scene. Lupita Nyong’o is most notable in this regard as her on-edge Adelaide contrasts effectively with her emotionally dead doppelgänger. However, Evan Alex is also memorable as both a harmless but slightly withdrawn boy whose counterpart is a masked, animal-like retard.

There’s so much of a richness to Us in terms of both symbolism and superbly-crafted sequences that it almost offers too much for just one film. Indeed, the fact that Jordan Peele was able to corral them in so effectively is a real feat in itself. I can only hope that he doesn’t go all M. Night Shyamalan and decline from here on in.

Runtime: 116 mins

Dir: Jordan Peele

Script: Jordan Peele

Starring: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Anna Diop, Cali Sheldon, Noelle Sheldon, Madison Curry

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆

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