"Get Out" blew away critics, dominated the box office and earned writer-director Jordan Peele an Oscar — for his debut film, don't forget — so the bar for "Us" (which opened SXSW and is out on March 22) is dizzyingly high. Peele seems to have met or cleared it, in a way thinkpieces and theories will struggle with. Here's what the reviews have to say:
'Us' Introduces Its Spooky Doppelgänger Concept In The '80s Before Leaping To The Present Day
In the city of Santa Cruz, at a beach resort in 1986, a young Adelaide Wilson (Madison Curry) wanders away from her parents (played by Yayha Abdul-Mateen II and Anna Diop). She stumbles into a haunted mirror house escape called Shaman's Vision Quest. Underneath the marquee, it says "Find Yourself". Adelaide walks inside and sees a vision of herself, but what she thinks is a reflected image is facing backward rather than towards her. When the image turns around and looks at her face-to-face, Adelaide realizes that this is not a reflection but a doppelgänger of herself.
The story proper begins three decades later, when the fully grown Adelaide Wilson (now played by Lupita Nyong'o) heads back to Santa Cruz for a summer holiday with her family[…] One night, the Wilsons are confronted by another family standing in the driveway of their vacation home, a family to whom they bear an unsettlingly perfect resemblance. Who are these strange, menacing doubles?
[The LA Times]
It's Very Much A Horror Movie First And Foremost…
Fans of modern horror will find a lot of familiar ground in Us once the dopplegängers appear. Their initial entrance into the Wilsons' lives echoes home-invasion thrillers like The Strangers, and the later stalking sequences resemble It Follows in their particular combination of lurking, inevitable terror, and abrupt violence. Us also echoes It Follows in that familiar horror-movie feeling of characters trying to adjust to the new rules of their reality, and figuring out how to exploit them.
Think "Funny Games" collided with Cronenbergian body horror and Hitchockian suspense, and you're maybe halfway there.
Themes aside, US still fully invests in the horror genre. Glimpses of The Shining, Black Swan and others show that Peele does his homework. The bloody violence, the tears, the screams, the jump scares – all familiar, but still done in a fresh way. If you thought that Luniz's "I Got 5 On It" was only for the trailer, rest assured it's not. The way the song is used throughout the film, specifically for a major set piece later in the film, will have you looking over your shoulder next time it plays on shuffle.
… But, Like 'Get Out,' It's Also Pretty Funny At Points
While this movie isn't quite as funny as Get Out, it still has plenty of laughs, largely provided by the Wilsons' obnoxiously wealthy friends: the Tylers, played by Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker. It's a relief to see Moss having so much fun after her two-season tenure on The Handmaid's Tale, and Heidecker, a cult-comedy god in his own right, sneakily steals almost all of his few scenes.
"Us" is a tour de force of comic tension and visceral release, a movie that weaponizes our chuckles against us and reminds us that laughing, screaming and thinking are not mutually exclusive pleasures.
This film is horror, but it does come with some laughs and incredible one-liners. My favorite was the line referring to the doppelgängers as "some kind of f*cked up performance art".
Lupita Nyong'o Gives Two Amazing Performances As Adelaide Wilson And Her Double, Red
Each of the actors plays their own double as a kind of bad knockoff; a combination of physical acting and uncanny makeup makes each of the "Tethered," as they call themselves, their own chilling creation. But Nyong'o's "Red," as she's credited, is an achievement on another level; a physical, vocal, and emotional performance so surgical in its uncanniness that it almost feels like it could not be the work of a flesh-and-blood human.
If Nyong'o doesn't get some professional recognition for her performances here, I will be very disappointed. As Adelaide, she's fearful, trying to keep some traumatic memories at bay but putting on a brave face for her family. To play her character's opposite, Nyong'o adopts a graceful, confident movement for her doppelgänger, sliding into the family's home with scissors at the ready.
She gives Red a voice that sounds like a rock-record backmasking accident, and an overall affect of a collection of primal elements glued into the shape of a human, and making a game effort to play at being one.
Six years after her Oscar win, we are only scratching the surface of her range on screen and it's exciting to see a glimpse here.
Peele And His Collaborators Have Assembled Another Visually And Sonically Arresting Film
"It Follows" cinematographer Mike Gioulakis creates unsettling images in mundane spaces, like how a strange family standing at a driveway isn't necessarily scary, but when it's eerily dark out, they're backlit so that their faces go unseen and the four bodies are standing at a higher elevation from our heroes, it looks like evil is swooping in from above.
A Jordan Peele film is a sensory experience. Any number of frames from Us could vie for a #OnePerfectShot meme, but there's a cheeky use of sound—maybe the most crucial element to a great horror film—that's perhaps more impressive here. Wild cinematography, wild dialogue, wild twists, and wild music (there's a "Fuck Tha Police" music cue that should go down in history) are working together here to recreate that throwback cinematic experience. That thing where watching a movie is an active task.
It was obvious from "Get Out" that Peele has a knack for indelible imagery, which "Us" matches with visual sophistication to spare: Reflections, doorways, and high ceilings frame some of the most absorbing moments, which avoid the obvious jump scares (although they make a few appearances). Cinematographer Michael Gioulakis plays with light and shadow to menacing effect, while Michael Abels' unnerving score builds to shrieking crescendos, some of which do push this jittery material over the top.
Some Critics Feel The Third Act Does Show Signs Of Sophomore Slump-ish Storytelling…
Its third act collapses during a fit of exposition that raises more questions than it answers, and its lingering twist lands with a palpable thud, failing to resonate due to a central metaphor that's a touch too translucent. Admirably, Peele resists leaning too hard into metaphor, focusing instead on story, but that also hobbles the final moments, which strain for an unearned resonance.
When the explanations and revelations start coming down the pipeline, none of it seems to click in that "ah hah" way that the best genre movies do. Not just mechanically, but thematically — there are a couple unexplained loose threads, but they didn't bother me so much as the sense that the big idea they were in service of never quite took shape.
The ambitious film, which had been shrouded in secrecy, sees Peele once again using the language of horror to say something about where we are as a society. But that commentary manages to be neither as obvious nor as nuanced as that in Get Out. While provocative, it doesn't quite stick the landing this time[…] It's a disappointment to report, and something we feel almost sheepish doing, because the experience of watching the film is such an enjoyable one.
… But You May Find The Chaos Enriches The Film
Us is never just one thing. It's a masterpiece of doubling, layering, and tethering. It's also a movie packed to the brim with horrifying iconography—the red jumpsuits, vacant-eyed bunnies, and always those slicing shears—some of which has obvious meaning, while Peele is disinclined to break down the rest the way he did with Get Out.
Us is a film that is littered with metaphors and I'm certain that I haven't figured out all of them. In fact, the film paces in a fugue-like state with bewildering occurrences that don't particularly connect with the plot, but instead linger there for the viewer to try to unpack for themselves.
Where 'Get Out' Was 'Solved' By Internet Theorizers, 'Us' Demands To Be Watched Again For Essence, Not Answers
Every image seems to be a clue for what's about to happen or a stand-in for something outside the main story of a family in danger. Peele's film, which he directed, wrote and produced, will likely reward audiences on multiple viewings, each visit revealing a new secret, showing you something you missed before in a new light.
Us feels like something meant to be watched over and over until the tape wears down, and we graft our own meaning and nightmares onto it.
The themes at play in this movie — the return of the repressed, the duality of the self, the loss of personal identity — are not particularly hard to grasp, but they are open to considerable interpretation. The closing twists, one of which is no less satisfying for being detectable a few minutes in advance, demand an immediate re-viewing.
Like Get Out, the film takes horror to interesting and new heights by, above all, centering Black characters. Peele doesn't care to do the same thing as others – and you shouldn't expect him to.