Film Corner with Njal Heddle: Us (2019)

FilmKeep your eyes Peele-ed.

Jordan Peele had a good year in 2017; his directorial debut horror-satire Get Out became one of the year’s best films, announced him as a brave new voice in the world of horror, and nabbed him a Best Original Screenplay Oscar to boot. However, some were confused by Get Out’s blend of horror and social satire, and others posed the question of “what if it was a fluke?”

Fast-forward to 2019, and Us, his latest film (and a full horror this time round) royally blows that fluke line out of the water.

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Following a family as they fight for survival against a group of unsettling, homicidal doppelgangers, Us shows Peele can scare the absolute piss out of an audience, while retaining a strong message.

Peele’s story is at once an unsettling one, a tone that is evoked throughout, but is also littered with tension-busting humour. This may sound like a detraction, but you’ll be thankful for the laugh given the heart-racing terror you’ll be experiencing throughout. The doppelgangers, known here as The Tethered, instantly evoke uncomfortable comparisons to Jim Crow-era caricatures, while the themes of oppression and intolerance are abundant as the film goes on.

Peele’s understanding of the language of film is played to its absolute best in Us, practically slapping the plot in our face with the simplest of shots, an impressive feat for a comedian-turned-director. Not even Bobcat Goldthwait got the full hang of it with his horror outings. But to discuss this in further detail would dent the full impact Us clearly wants to save for the viewer (the film’s trailer was impressive, but trust us, that’s not even half of what the film’s packing).

But one thing’s for sure; Peele is carving out his own niche and establishing himself as a horror auteur of the finest order (his close-ups of actors crying profusely seems to be his most notable trope thus far).

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The central performances of the cast are each outstandingly brilliant; Lupita Nyong’o towers above the lot as Adelaide, the family matriarch, and Red, her 8-cigarette-pack-a-day sounding doppelganger. It’s a performance to be admired, as Nyong’o balances the trauma-fuelled Adelaide and the malicious, yet charismatic Red. Winston Duke is inherently charming as the lovable Dad of the family, while also intimidating as the lunk of beast that is Abraham, his double. Elsewhere, Elisabeth Moss does good wine-mum, but offers a great turn later in the film, once things start going REALLY mental.

However, all is not as perfect. Despite Peele’s much-lauded writing being on full display here, it becomes hard not to ignore the odd plot-contrivance as the film goes on. We shan’t say more than that, but if one’s brain is awash with questions throughout the film, some answers may not be fully within reach. One of these is answered by the very end of the film, but said ending may infuriate a great deal, feeling at once tacked-on, yet imperative to the plot. And some may just simply let one down,  proving that while Peele has plenty to say, he may not have all the answers himself. 

But despite its shortcomings, Us remains one of the scariest, most relevant, and brilliant horror films of the decade. If Get Out was 50/50 on the horror-satire, Us is gratefully 80% horror, with smatterings of political and introspective brilliance.


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