“Us” Review: Peele nails the art of high-quality film
Aidan Janssen, Reporter & Designer
With a strong use of narrative and characters, “Us” raises the bar for the psychological thriller genre.
Directed by Jordan Peele, known for his comedy series “Key & Peele” and award-winning film “Get Out,” “Us” tells the story of the Wilson family, following Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), Gabe (Winston Duke), Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph), and Jason (Evan Alex) Wilson as they go on summer vacation to the California coast.
However, in typical horror and thriller movie fashion, something is amiss. Everyone on the coast finds themselves being hunted down by their own doppelgangers, a group called the Tethered. It is the Wilsons’ main goal to escape and find safety.
Peele proves himself a brilliant writer with his powerful themes and characters. Adelaide, the matriarch of the family, had a traumatic experience when she previously visited Santa Cruz with her family, providing context for her unease regarding the vacation’s location. Gabe effectively functions as comic relief, but due to the subtlety of his humor, it never feels forced, nor does it distract from the main events.
I went into the movie expecting humor — Peele is a comedian, after all — but he went above and beyond in creating memorable moments through comedy.
The Tethered themselves are a refreshing take on monsters so typical to horror films. They feel incredibly human, not because of their appearance, but because of how they behave. They are actually relatively vulnerable, unlike other popular horror monsters. This vulnerability adds another layer of humanization to the Tethered, as they too feel pain and follow the same rules of human survival — a bat to the head resulting in pain, etc. Whenever a character fights their own doppelganger, their similarities give viewers a tense moment: both are equally matched in thought and action.
The use of these characters helps to enforce themes present throughout the film: equals, duality, opposites, and control, to name a few. However, the themes are not exactly the focus of the movie. Rather, Peele is careful to create a film enjoyable for all audiences. I very much appreciated that the movie kept the spotlight on the plot, characters, and doppelgangers instead of trying to force a message upon the viewers. I like this about the film because it allows a larger amount of people to find something they enjoy. For those who are there to dig through motifs, seeking a deeper message, or for those who wish to be kept busy for a few hours, the film consistently presents something to enjoy.
Composer Michael Abels, who also arranged the score for “Get Out,” did a fantastic job creating an eerie atmosphere with the film’s music. The movie also used pre-existing tracks such as “I Got 5 On It” by Luniz. The use of these tracks made the setting and mood even more believable
The movie portrayal of Santa Cruz feels believable, as do other set pieces in the movie. Each portrays a particular mood, and the movie’s atmosphere gives the viewer an immersive thriller experience.
While the movie is rated R, the violence is not over-the-top in my opinion. A good portion of the more serious wounds inflicted on characters either happen off-screen or are intentionally missed as the footage cuts at the last second. I personally think the movie’s handling of violence makes it a bit tamer compared to other films of the same genre.
However, if you are looking for a horror experience that is going to make you jump, then this may not be the film for you. While it technically ticks all the marks for what creates a great horror experience, I found that the actual scary moments are few and far between, and that the thriller label fits the film better overall.
“Us” also has a few predictable plot points. Every time I noticed one, I felt like I had seen something similar before. Peele certainly took inspiration from other thriller films, as he drops little references to movies such as “Jaws.” Inspiration is undeniably great, but I feel that some moments of the plot were too predictable because “that’s just what happens in movies.”
“Us” is one of the best psychological thrillers in recent film. The brilliant use of character writing, development, and conflict — along with an impactful use of settings and themes — create a high-quality film. While it isn’t immune to horror tropes and does suffer from “I’ve seen this before” syndrome, it is nearly a masterpiece of a film that I recommend to anyone who is interested in the thriller and horror genres. Peele took influence from other writers to make this film, and I hope that other filmmakers look to his work for inspiration on their own films.
Peele has once again nailed the art of high-quality film making.
4 out of 5 stars