Every couple of decades there’s a filmmaker that is able to see and transmit the social state of the country. There have been the likes of Fassbinder in Germany during the 70s and 80s, Oliver Stone in the US in the 80s and 90s, and recently Jordan Peele. His debut film, Get Out looked at a “post-racial” America, his second one Us, very much continues along the same line of giving his native country a proper diagnosis.
Us, like Get Out, is a horror film, although this time set in Santa Cruz, California. We follow a happy family of four (Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright-Joseph, Evan Alex) who goes to the beach for summer vacation, but there, they encounter evil sets of doppelgangers that plague them in the night.
Get Out was an incredibly compact film that was perfectly balanced in its aspects of social commentaries and its horror elements. Peele’s background in comedy also gave his directorial debut a sense of realism, having the more striking aspects come out of nowhere. With Us, Peele continues to have this comedic subtlety that helps set-up characters and stakes. However, he loses the balance of social commentary and genre-tropes, leaning on on the political message he wants his film to have. It would have been hard to deliver an on-par follow-up to Get Out, but Us comes as near to a satisfying sophomore outing as you can get.
The symbolism and analogies in this film are richly sprinkled throughout, they appear to be so much by the end of the runtime that you are overwhelmed. Peele forgets to craft a believable and gripping horror tale on the side, instead falling for silly clichés of having his characters make stupid decisions to get themselves into subsequent tense situations. Thankfully he has a very committed cast that has explosive chemistry with Nyong’o and Duke getting much deserved leading roles (their first in a major film); their rapport begs for future collaborations. Peele is also very successful at extracting good performances from the two young actors in his cast, usually the weak links in horror films.
Peele clearly felt the necessity to make this film after Donald Trump’s election, which shocked the entire world by showing that there was a darker aspect to the United States that was still alive. The film opens with text talking about abandoned tunnels in the US with no apparent purpose, the climax ends up moving us there indicating that there has always been a darkness in the United States, the only thing is that they had buried it (literally), hoping it would die out instead of ferment and grow.
In the end, Us is a satisfying enough follow up to Peele’s Get Out. However, the emphasis on his social commentary symbolism weakens the horror aspect of the film. A talented and well-directed cast along with a timely message prove this to be another enlightening product from the American filmmaker.