(2019) Horror (Universal) Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Anna Diop, Cali Sheldon, Noelle Sheldon, Madison Curry, Ashley McKoy, Napiera Groves, Lon Gowan, Alan Frazier, Duke Nicholson, Dustin Ybarra, Nathan Harrington, Kara Hayward. Directed by Jordan Peele
Some movies seize on an idea and do their level best to expand on it, explore it or otherwise concentrate their efforts on that single idea. Of course, some movies don’t have aspirations even that lofty. Then, there are movies like Us that are ao layered with ideas that it’s hard to sort all of them out. That can be a double-edged sword.
As a young girl (Curry), Adelaide (Nyong’o) had a terrifying encounter in a mirror maze on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Now, as a married woman, her husband Gabe (Duke) is bringing her back to the scene of her greatest fear, and she’s uneasy about it. Along for the ride are her teenage daughter Zora (Joseph) and her younger son Jason (Alex).
They are joined at the seaside by their bickering friends Josh (Heidecker) and Kitty (Moss) as well as their prissy twin daughters Becca (C. Sheldon) and Lindsey (N. Sheldon). But more importantly, they are joined late that night by a startling and frightening appearance of their doppelgangers, who mean to replace them and take over their lives.
While ostensibly about a family’s fight for survival, there are all sorts of subtexts going on here – not full-on allegories, but more like suggestions of same. There’s some subtext about the difference between poverty and success and how thin that line can be; there’s subtext about racial politics in the late 2010s; there’s subtext about the inner battle we have with our own dark sides and there’s subtext about how we perceive our own identities and deal with our selves.
\Peele with only two movies (this and 2017’s Get Out) has become perhaps the pre-eminent horror director in America. He knows what frightens us, but more importantly, how to stage those fears to the very best advantage. The terror here is palpable and relatable, leading to a kind of stomach-churning feeling that this could be happening, right now, to you and you couldn’t do a damn thing about it. A good horror movie will affect you that way.
Much has been said about Lupita Nyong’o’s masterful performance here, I won’t add any more superlatives to that conversation – largely because other critics have already used them all up – but suffice to say that the most egregious snub at the most recent Oscars was the lack of a nomination for Nyong’o for her performance here. It is absolutely breathtaking.
Sometimes, you just want to have the bejezus scared out of you and this movie is absolutely perfect for the job. Although it does take perhaps a little too long to get rolling (particularly after a really unforgettable prologue), it takes one of those rare truly original ideas and does something spectacular with it. This is a can’t-miss for any self-respecting horror film fan and for serious cinephiles as well, and how often does that particular conjunction ever occur?
REASONS TO SEE: Scary in a gut-wrenching way. The concept is very original. Nyong’o gives a masterful performance.
REASONS TO AVOID: Takes a bit too long to get going.
FAMILY VALUES: This is profanity, violence and images of terror.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Some filming took place at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, where The Lost Boys (1987) was also filmed; in fact, the Boardwalk has essentially remained unchanged since then.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AMC On Demand, AppleTV, DirecTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, HBO Max, Microsoft, Movies Anywhere, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/28/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews, Metacritic: 81/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Invasion of the Body Snatchers
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT: The fourth day of Six Days of Darkness.