‘Us:’ a disturbingly intelligent horror thriller

Douglas Cowdrey

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Note: It is best to see this movie with limited previous knowledge, so this review will be as vague and brief as possible to maximize your experience in the theater and limit the potential for guessing spoilers.
Written, directed and produced by Jordan Peele, “Us” is a creepily suspenseful horror movie that transcends many of its predecessors and contemporaries and offers an intelligent, nonlinear take on the horror genre.

Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke play Adelaide and Gabe Wilson, mother and father of a son and daughter, whose family vacation to Santa Cruz transforms from peaceful to terrifying upon discovery of a sinister, identical family following them. The acting is terrific all around, but Nyong’o gives a particularly high quality performance as Adelaide, struggling to keep herself together on the surface while internally reflecting on a tumultuous childhood.
Unlike Peele’s first film “Get Out,” “Us” focuses less upon racial tension and instead aims its sights elsewhere, exploring existential fear and the nature of violence. While many segments of the film are in a straightforward horror-style, there are many subversive scenes that bend the horror genre to different degrees. Echoing Peele’s days as one half of the Key & Peele duo on Comedy Central, there is a healthy dose of dark humor as well.
For the squeamish, there is a moderate amount of blood and brutal violence, but it is not gratuitous—in fact, the camera often obscures or cuts away from the moment of impact or more graphic scenes. Death and murder are very meaningful in “Us,” and each death is symbolic.
The soundtrack is perfectly ambient and eerie, and like many great suspense movies, there are several scenes that would be infinitely less effective without their accompanying soundtrack.
As in “Get Out,” there are countless allegories and symbols throughout “Us” that foreshadow or predict other events, initially seeming trivial but later revealed as monumental premonitions.
Like many of director Christopher Nolan’s movies (“Interstellar,” “The Prestige,” “Inception”), “Us” likely proves to be even more meaningful and allegorical upon multiple viewings, making it a richer and more rewarding movie than many of its contemporaries.
Jordan Peele is redefining the horror genre, exploring very real fears that many moviegoers have and linking them to real-world, hot button issues rather than recycle worn-out tropes and sequels. There are no demonic presences, invincible faceless killers or hordes of zombies in “Us,” but its intellectually terrifying exploration of the human condition mixed with grim humor and top-tier suspense make for a thinking person’s horror movie. It will keep you up at night—not exclusively from its eeriness, but equally from its complex, symbolic storyline.
In a world of B-grade horror movies—and B-grade movies in general—“Us” is a masterfully crafted tale of suspense and family loyalty that may not be for everyone, even if it may be about everyone.