When Jordan Peele made his feature directorial debut with Get Out in 2016, the movie became an immediate cultural phenomenon worldwide. Long before it reached a wide or international audience, it had already been signaled as a new classic in the horror genre. Peele became a name on everyone’s lips (Key & Peele isn’t very popular in Norway) and for understandable reasons. Get Out is one of the freshest and most daring horror films to come from the U.S. in recent memory, and the cultural impact it had is still felt and should be valued for years to come. Us is Peele’s second feature, and while less explicit in its politics, it certainly cements Peele as an important voice in contemporary American cinema.
Us plays a lot closer to traditional horror conventions than Get Out ever did. It has a cabin; it has a likable family who only wants to have a weekend to themselves (played brilliantly by Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahidi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex); it has a lake, and of course a poor excuse for a boat. It has a hall of mirrors and it has bunnies. Whereas a lot of people want to say Get Out “isn’t really a horror film” (as seems to be the norm every time a genre film reaches a certain level of critical acclaim), it undeniably is a true horror film. It’s just that it dances in different directions than one might be used to. Us is a full embrace of the horror conventions you know and love, but it is never unoriginal. Peele knows the genre well enough to use all its best features to their fullest extent, and the result is a terrifying, hilarious and chilling horror film that moves in many different directions.
It is not only that Us is less explicit in its politics or cultural commentary, it is also that it has a broader spectrum to deal with. There is so much to chew on here that it is easy to feel a bit overwhelmed, or even a bit suspicious. It’s difficult to pin down one main theme on Peele’s mind here, as it moves from American exceptionalism and American pseudo-solidarity to quick-witted jabs at privilege, particularly in a sequence which involves a Home Assistant device called Ophelia, and more. There is a lot on the surface of Us and even more below it. It would be easy to suggest that it lacks focus, but Peele is too clever of a director for this criticism to feel accurate.
You can read this film in many different ways, and the film does not only allow for such interpretive spectatorship, it almost encourages it. “Find your true self,” it says on a House of Mirrors in the movie’s prologue, and as the mirrors twists and turns our characters reality so does the film twist and turn dependent on how you approach it. Aside from the political readings, which will certainly be the most talked-about considering which film it follows, there was too in my eyes a clear exploration of the effects of trauma, more specifically the effects of repressed memories coming to the surface. I have seen this first hand in my immediate family. I have witnessed how devastating inaccessible memories can be for the psyche, and how a person can change once those memories begin to come forth. It is a shadow that follows you around, always, and you cannot shake it even if you think the past is the past. This is a part of the film I could imagine myself talking about at length—not suited for a review format—but I could also see other revelations coming to light and re-shaping the work. This is a sign of a layered and rich film, and it entices you back into the theater immediately.
Us is first and foremost one of the most entertaining horror films I’ve seen in recent years, regardless of country of origin. It is expertly terrifying—the score and the cinematography is in such perfect harmony here that certain images will haunt your dreams for days after—and it is also enormously and surprisingly funny, even in its darkest moments. As someone who is not all that familiar with Jordan Peele’s work pre-Get Out, he is certainly now one I’m deeply intrigued to follow in the future. And as so many have said before me: Jordan Peele is not the new Alfred Hitchcock or Stanley Kubrick; he’s the first Jordan Peele.