Easily THE biggest film out of SXSW this year, Us was met with a lot of excitement as it officially kicked off the 2019 SXSW film festival. As only Jordan Peele’s second film, following the massive success he saw with Get Out, Us was the film to see. People were lining up before 1 PM, over five hours before the film was set to premiere. What Jordan Peele did with Us solidly establishes him as master of suspense and horror.
Us is very different from Get Out but Jordan’s touch is undoubtedly all over the film. The Wilsons, a happy and normal family with Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), Gabe (Winston Duke), Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex) set off on a family vacation to Santa Cruz. Hesitant to even go on the trip, Adelaide becomes even more uncomfortable as she spends more time in Santa Cruz. She begins having flashbacks to a very traumatic and mysterious event that happened in her childhood, and immediately feels uncomfortable and wants to leave. Gabe, thinking she is just overreacting finally believes her when faced with a bizarre sight, a family dressed in all red jumpsuits, holding hands, and standing in their driveway. As the night continues, insanity ensues leaving the Wilsons fighting for their lives from a very unlikely evil, themselves.
The casting for this film could not have been better. Lupita Nyong’o is superb as both Adelaide and what is referred to as the tethered version of herself. Nyong’o continues to showcase her talents both dramatically and physically. Her tethered version is something else entirely. It is easily the creepiest thing I’ve seen in a while. Everything from the voice to the spastic mannerisms are just incredibly horrifying but remarkable. In one scene, she tells the Wilsons a little bit about the tethered, and the story and the way it is told is chilling. Between this role and her role in Little Monsters, this year is certainly a fantastic and very different year for Lupita.
Who most surprised me in the film was actually Winston Duke. He became a household name after his performance in Black Panther last year, but this role totally shocked me. As Gabe, he is the perfect embodiment of the typical dad. He’s got the odd sense of humor and the delivery of the corny dad jokes and one-liners down perfectly. His tethered version is a total contrast as this brooding almost neanderthal type character.
As for the two young actors, they were fantastic, especially considering their young age and taking on roles where they have to play two different characters. While Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss as Mr. and Mrs. Tyler, played the family friends of the Wilsons, their roles were smaller but had a lasting impact. As themselves, they were the typical family with the wife who drinks too much rosé and the husband who buys expensive and over the top items. Their tethered versions are where their performances made an impact. Elisabeth Moss has a scene where she puts on lipgloss, and it is captivating and terrifying at the same time.
The music in the film by Michael Abels, the same person who did the music for Get Out, is back with Jordan on this film as well. The music is so important because it builds so much of the tension and atmosphere for the different scenes in the film. Without it, the scenes would have an entirely different feel. In certain scenes, they use almost like a piece of operatic choral music that builds up the tension while also having this “other-worldly” feeling to it. It is a spectacular score. Also, the music choices in the film are great, and there is a particular scene that I don’t want to spoil but will make an impact on the audience.
The writing in the film is so refreshing and has such a unique voice and tone to it that is hard to find anything with which to compare it. In so many ways, the film is so deep and indeed requires more than one watch to catch everything. One of the things that makes it so powerful is the thoughts and the reflection that it introduces to the audience. Some of it is not clear cut and has a particular answer but instead requires the audience to think about and pick apart different aspects of the film. For example, the tethered say that humans figured out they could make copies of themselves but couldn’t copy the soul. That is really up for interpretation as to what that means and how it can be applied to the rest of the film and society as a whole. It could be a commentary on our online presence and social media how we create these superficial versions of ourselves that lack a soul or the essence of what makes us who we are and not just gimmicks or copies of another version. In another way, the film requires us to realize and reflect that the problems we are facing and the evils were are facing may require us to examine and look at ourselves first. Have we created this evil or this otherness that we are so afraid to face? Parts of the film could also be seen as a commentary on mental health and our abilities to face our demons. The complexity and the many ways of interpreting or pulling out different parts of the film to mean something potentially different from another is what makes the film so spectacular. It is a conversation starter that will keep audiences talking for a very long time.
While there are so many things I thought were extraordinary, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that it does tend to get a little lost towards the end and it feels like it meanders a bit before getting to the end of the film. As a result, it feels slightly long at the point. Still, with all that in mind, the film still entrances audiences and hooks you in from the very first scene. Jordan Peele is a master of horror and suspense, knowing how to strike a perfect balance between comedy, horror, and suspense. It is what makes him one of the best directors, writers, and producers working today. Breathtakingly haunting and in a way, surreal, Us is a must-see that will horrify audiences the world over. Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, and Evan Alex bring the Wilsons and the tethered to life, delighting and petrifying you from start to finish.