Us opened last weekend to a mammoth $70.2 million, becoming the highest opening original horror movie and biggest ever opening for a film with a black female lead. What’s more, Us, Jordan Peele’s follow-up to his Oscar winning instant classic Get Out, is just plain awesome. It’s a fun, immersive, thoughtful spectacular that just happens to center on an African American family. It’s as if Jordan Peele is shrugging, saying, “I make outstanding horror films with black leads, NBD” while his doppelganger is brandishing a pair of golden scissors and shrieking “it’s a very big deal.”
Us opens with a bizarre opening title sequence—Get Out composer Michael Abels provides an even better score here—that won’t make any sense until much later in the narrative. Then there’s an excellent 1986 set sequence on the Santa Cruz boardwalk, wherein a little girl wanders away from her squabbling parents and encounters her mirror image in a spooky funhouse. Flash forward to the present: the Wilsons are a middle class family headed to their vacation house. Gabe (Winston Duke) is an endearingly goofy dad. Jason (Evan Alex) is an oddball kid with an affinity for Halloween masks and magic tricks. Sister Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) is a high school running star alternately amused and annoyed by most of her family, aka every teenage girl ever. Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o, transcendent) is a fiercely protective mother who anchors the clan, but something’s bothering her. That was her in the funhouse, and she’s intensely triggered by this return. It doesn’t spoil anything to say that her doppelganger soon arrives with copies of the entire family in tow; mayhem ensues. Anyone who gives away more than that deserves to dine on raw rabbit.
The construction of Us is exquisite. Portents of doom and symbolism abound, from the Biblical quote to the mirror imagery everywhere you look. The Wilsons’ friends, the Tylers, are a parallel family. Two parents, two kids: white/black, rich/not so rich, happy/deeply dysfunctional. (As boozy mom Kitty, Elisabeth Moss gets to show off her acting chops—though no one can hold a candle to Lupita here.) There are clues and winks saturating the movie, but Peele isn’t showing off. He’s just inviting you to immerse yourself in his world. He beckons the audience into his nightmare kingdom as surely as the characters are drawn into that funhouse. At the risk of belaboring a point, Us truly is a funhouse; while Get Out was deadly serious, this movie is a thrill ride, leavened with humor and as enjoyable as it is creepy.
For the past week, I’ve been debating this movie with friends. Does the mythology make sense? Are there plot holes? Is it overrated, poorly written, etc., etc.? I’ve engaged with the conversations—it’s the kind of movie you should see with friends, and plan to talk about over coffee or cocktails immediately afterward. But I remain unshaken in my conviction that this is an extremely well made, imaginative, and entertaining film that is destined to become a classic. Peele displays such complete command of his craft, from script to camera to lighting to the inspired choice of songs: Janelle Monae and N.W.A. are among the standouts. All of the performers turn in excellent work. Everything you’ve heard about Nyong’o is true. She is utterly remarkable as Adelaide and her scissors-loving “Tethered” counterpart, Red. If there was any justice in the world, she would be nominated for an Oscar for this movie, but the Academy will probably snub her. No matter. She makes this movie, aptly supported by the entire cast. Duke is endearing and truly outstanding in his own right. He’s also one of the sexiest bears I’ve seen onscreen in a long while. (Add unconventional body types to the Hollywood standards this movie casually upends.) He and the kids are adept at vividly portraying their sinister “shadows,” too.
We already knew Jordan Peele was one to watch. This terrific movie only serves to confirm it, and as a horror fan, I’m thrilled to have a new master to follow—especially one slicing through barriers.