3.5 stars out of 4
Maybe they are in the sewer, or maybe they’re residing in an underground tunnel or maybe, they are plotting your demise from the basement of an abandoned building. But they are somewhere – scheming, training and waiting for their chance to use their scissors to slice you to death.
They are doppelgangers and every has one in “Us,” which is director Jordan Peele’s sensational follow to his 2017 smash hit “Get Out” that has left an indelible mark on the horror genre. “Us” isn’t as scary as “Get Out,” but it almost nearly as good, which says a lot considering “Get Out” was nominated for four Oscars and won for best original screenplay. It took home more than $255 million at the worldwide box office off a mere $4.5 million budget.
At its core, “Us” is really about a family – mom Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), dad Gabe (Nyong’o’s “Black Panther” co-star Winston Duke), daughter Zora (the remarkably expressive Shahadi Wright Joseph), and son Jason (Evan Alex)—who enjoying a summer vacation on the California coast. They appear to be normal, but the audience senses there’s something that’s off.
Adelaide, all of the sudden, wants to go home. She begins thinking of a scary experience she suffered at a beachside amusement park as a child, in 1986, when she wandered into a haunted house filled with mirrors and an into her own doppelganger. It sets the tone of the movie, which is revisited when her husband sees no problem taking the family to the same town that scarred her childhood more than 30 years later.
Peele takes his time telling the story, giving the audience the chance tot get to know the family, as well as their friends, Kitty (Elisabeth Moss) and Josh (Tim Heidecker).
But as the sun sets, the story gets darker. Adelaide wants to leave the next day. But of course, it’s too late, as standing in the driveway are doppelgangers of the Adelaide, her husband, daughter and son. But the doppelgangers look like Adelaide’s family, but don’t have the same soul.
And that’s the crux of the movie. People can share looks, but they can’t share a soul. While Adelaide’s family has lived a good life, their doppelgangers have suffered underground. The dad grunts. The daughter is has a sadistic stare. The young son can’t talk, wears a mask and acts more like a pet dog than a elementary schooler. And then there’s Adelaide’s doppelganger, who is the doppelganger’s leader who instructs her family to violently kill Adelaide’s family, one by one.
“Us” is more of a thriller than a horror film. It’s bloody, but not over the top. Peele’s ability to methodically put the story together piece by piece to answer a much bigger question by the film’s end make this a film you’ll be hearing about around Oscar time.
Jon Gallo is an award-winning journalist and editor with 19 years of experience, including stints as a staff writer at The Washington Post and sports editor at The Baltimore Examiner. He also believes the government should declare federal holidays in honor of the following: the Round of 64 of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament; the Friday of the Sweet 16; the Monday after the Super Bowl; and of course, the day after the release of the latest Madden NFL video game.