By Christopher Henry
Movies in the horror genre go through constant turnover of popular tropes that wind up being overused throughout a cycle of many years. In the late 90’s, we were introduced to the “Found-Footage” trope. These movies are filmed to intentionally resemble recovered home-video footage, thus creating a realistic sense of fear. Then for a brief period in the early 2000’s, movies relied on heavily grotesque torture scenes to shock and disgust audiences. This trope was aptly referred to as “Torture-Porn”. However, the most recent fad to arguably wear out its welcome is the “jump-scare”. A technique used to jar the audience by abruptly bringing forth a frightening image, often accompanied by a loud or scary noise. Unfortunately, not only do current horror movies feel oversaturated with this trope, but there is a reliance on it that feels lazy and makes one wonder if today’s filmmakers know how to make a movie without it.
“The relatively new filmmaker once again proves that horror movies not only utilize other techniques but can feature well-rounded and interesting characters”
Jordan Peele’s sophomore piece, “Us”, is thankfully a welcome addition to the genre, following the success of his first feature film “Get Out”. The relatively new filmmaker once again proves that horror movies not only utilize other techniques but can feature well-rounded and interesting characters while serving as a commentary on relevant and thoughtful social issues.
The plot of the film focuses on Adelaide Wilson (played by Lupita Nyong’o) and her family as they return to the beach home where she spent time as a child. Little does her family know, Adelaide had a traumatic experience in that area as a child that still haunts her to this day. Adelaide’s paranoia upon returning to this environment is made a reality when four masked strangers attack her and her family inside the home. What makes it more horrifying, is that these strangers appear to be identical but demented clones of all of them. Together, she and her family must fight for survival as they discover that the doppelgänger’s origin may be even more frightening than the seemingly random act of the attack itself.
“most of this movie’s success hinges on Peele’s ability to get viewers invested in the characters”
There are many impressive elements in this film’s structure. One is that even in moments where viewers are led to believe that a cliched horror trope might play out, Peele chooses to pull out of that moment. As a matter of fact, most of this movie’s success hinges on Peele’s ability to get viewers invested in the characters, allowing the suspense and tension to build slowly. Even in the heightened moments of chases and intensity, the tension continues to build. Once the conflict of the film is introduced and the first attack begins, it is impossible to take your eyes off of the movie until the credits roll. Another credit to Peele is the way he weaves of the film’s main metaphor regarding the culture of the United States, into the plot of the film. It is neither heavy-handed, preachy nor repetitive. The film instead makes its message succinctly, allowing viewers to simply sit with it and reflect on it themselves.
“Jordan Peele has proven once again that he has his finger planted firmly on the pulse of modern horror”
Besides the noteworthy direction of Peele, there isn’t a substandard performance in the film. Lupita Nyong’o’s dual performance as Adelaide and her doppelgänger, Red, is chilling and mesmerizing. Every movement and choice made fully captures and distinctly separates both characters as distorted mirror images of the other. Winston Duke’s shines in his role as the affable and dorky husband, Gabe. His charm and painfully adorable “Dad-jokes” provide occasional levity as well as an emotional center for Adelaide’s character. Both children (played by Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex) are convincing in their roles and hold their own opposite the adult leads. The film also features stand-out performances from Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss as Josh and Kitty Tyler. Moss and Heidecker effortlessly play the role of entitled wealthy friends in an endearing and humorous way. Which is no small feat in a motion picture where the primary tone is suspenseful and ominous.
Overall, Jordan Peele has proven once again that he has his finger planted firmly on the pulse of modern horror. He crafted a movie that broke with standard conventions opting instead to tell a compelling story. One that captivates and grips the audience in a slow-building panic until the film’s startling conclusion. As a film that many directors could learn from, I would assign this film an A+ rating for its excellent structure and unique deviation from stereotypes.