Evil doppelgangers – the backbone of many a fine cinematic chiller, as well as Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (the antithesis of other murderous lookalike tales) – take centre stage in Jordan Peele’s slick, coolly assured follow-up to the inventive and stunning Get Out.
That assuredness shows almost throughout the film, from its curious musical and auditory choices to the verve of its slasher scenes, and the successful interjection of humour at what would normally be totally inappropriate moments.
Still, has the writer-director done enough here to deserve the reputation he built up with his 2017 shocker?
The answer is yes, with a caveat: he may have let his imagination run a little too wild here, and when it comes to explaining away the whole evil twin scenario, things get pretty ludicrous.
Fortunately he has a really strong anchor to keep his tale from taking off into the stratosphere of absurdity: Lupita Nyong’o.
As both the grounded matriarch of the film’s family in peril, and the twisted mirror image who stalks the clan, Nyong’o delivers a strong, charismatic and wildly diametrical performance – performances? – and keeps us invested in both sides of the story unfolding here.
On one side, she is Adelaide Wilson, loving wife to the goofy Gabe (Winston Duke) and mother to Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex).
During a family vacation to Santa Cruz – the scene of a traumatic encounter Adelaide had as a child – they find themselves stalked and menaced by doubles of themselves.
Well, evil and twisted (or, as Bill and Ted might say, totally non-non-heinous) doubles, but doppelgangers all the same.
Now we’re all familiar with the way horror movies show people inflicting grievous emotional, mental, physical and spiritual damage upon each other.
And there are some moments throughout Us when the film’s hatred and killings seem metaphorical in the context of today’s hate-laden social conversations and media messages.
But by making the killers the same as their victims, and weaving a benefit event like Hands Across America into the framework of his cinematic murder spree, Peele seems to be calling out the haters for letting their insecurities, envy and possibly, covetous impulses blind them to what makes people more alike than dissimilar.
But after establishing the doppelgangers here as being so profoundly hateful towards, essentially, themselves, and setting up viewers to examine their own penchant for hatred, Peele undoes his good work with a careless line in the Big Reveal scene.
I won’t say more, only that the climactic sequence also happens to be where Nyong’o does some of the heaviest lifting both physically and emotively. And just when you think your nerves have had enough, Peele sends them over the edge (this time with a riveting turn by Madison Curry, who plays Adelaide as a child).
Ultimately, Nyong’o’s mettle and Peele’s ambition combine to elevate Us above regular genre fare like, say, your garden-variety slasher flick or Purge instalment.
No doubt, Us will seem to be saying different things to different people, and to be honest, it all went by too quickly to properly digest.
But, flaws and all, it is another strong piece of work from a filmmaker who looks pretty capable of giving the horror genre the total gutting and overhaul it sorely needs.
Director: Jordan Peele
Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex