Jordan Peele changed the horror game and won an Oscar for 2017’s Get Out, so there was a lot of pressure on Us, his new horror film that debuted at SXSW.
Peele described Get Out as a “social horror” movie, and the consensus among critics is that while Us tackles different elements of societal horrors, the overarching themes of the movie play more into the personal.
Here’s what the critics are saying.
Lupita Nyong’o is the star of the show
“Us has at its center two incredible performances by Lupita Nyong’o. From the early scenes of creeping anxiety to the polarizing final conflict between human and duplicate – a literal dance of violence that contrasts the poise of one against the brutality of the other — Nyong’o creates two unique personas with endless depth.”
“A quiet creature of physically devastating effect, Nyong’o’s literally dueling performances become a high-wire act that centers the film’s focus even when its gaze becomes vaguely unwieldy during the finale.”
“But the movie belongs rightly and effortlessly to Nyong’o, and she sustains every moment by distilling innumerable emotional layers — the unshakable resolve of a mother and wife, the stricken gaze of a trauma survivor, the lingering incomprehension of a lost child — into a performance for the scream-queen history books.”
The horror is real…
“Us demonstrates how Peele is iterating on his social horror recipes, by broadening the scope of his ambitions and fiendishly modulating the use of violence and familiarity to send shivers down our collective spines.”
“’It Follows’ cinematographer Mike Gioulakis creates unsettling images in mundane spaces, like how a strange family standing at a driveway isn’t necessarily scary, but when it’s eerily dark out, they’re backlit so that their faces go unseen and the four bodies are standing at a higher elevation from our heroes, it looks like evil is swooping in from above.”
“[Peele] gives this mind-bending scenario the moment-to-moment intensity and jolting humor of a George Romero-inspired nightmare.”
…but so is the comedy
“And while there are plenty of scares and creepy events happening all around, Peele balances the shock and awe with some hilarious moments courtesy of the dad, Gabe (played by another Black Panther alum, Winston Duke).”
“Once again, the director draws upon the sketch-comedy gifts he honed on “Key & Peele” to achieve an artful, ruthless balance of horror and hilarity. “Us” is a tour de force of comic tension and visceral release, a movie that weaponizes our chuckles against us and reminds us that laughing, screaming and thinking are not mutually exclusive pleasures.”
The movie’s tone makes for an unsettling ride
“Despite all these layers, Us never lacks for momentum. It careens, lurches, and rattles like a rusty roller-coaster determined to squeeze some last screams out of its riders before getting busted down for scrap.”
The comparisons to Get Out are inevitable
“Compared to Get Out, Us feels like more conventional modern horror. It follows a familiar storytelling pattern — initial scare, a drop back to calm and familiar scenes that set up the characters, a series of foreshadowing events and fake-out scares, a sudden escalation of tension.”
“Us is a bit of a departure, a film that isn’t afraid to mash together some of its biggest ideas to create something ambitious and a bit fractured in nature. The various threads may not hold together quite as tightly as in Get Out, but a tighter story would never be worth the loss in ideas.”
Deep cut horror references are there for the fans
“For me, “The Shining” looked to be the film that received the most nods in “Us,” including an overhead shot of the Wilson family driving through hilly forests to their vacation home, much like the Torrance family does on the way to the Overlook Hotel….
…Peele also pays tribute to Brian De Palma with a split diopter shot that places both Adelaide and her doppelgänger in equal focus for the first time in the movie. There’s also a tip of the hat to Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Black Swan'”
“Fans of modern horror will find a lot of familiar ground in Us once the dopplegängers appear. Their initial entrance into the Wilsons’ lives echoes home-invasion thrillers like The Strangers, and the later stalking sequences resemble It Follows in their particular combination of lurking, inevitable terror, and abrupt violence.”