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Us review: Jordan Peele's horror flick holds up a dark mirror to Get Out

Director Peele follows up 2017's Get Out with a hotly anticipated doppelganger film.

Universal

It shouldn't come as a shock that a horror film titled Us plays with the idea that perhaps we are the villains.

The film's writer, director and producer, Jordan Peele, addresses how we fear and hate those we consider to be other without examining ourselves. "Maybe the monster we need to look at has our face," Peele told the audience at the film's world premiere during SXSW 2019. "Maybe the evil is us." 

Us opens March 22 in the US and UK. Looking in a mirror is one of the recurring motifs of Peele's new horror flick, and the biggest metaphorical theme too.

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Us tells the story of Adelaide Wilson, a wife and mother whose traumatic childhood experience casts a shadow over a summer beach trip with her family.

Trauma haunts survivors for years to come like a shadow they can't shake, and Us puts the members of the Wilson family face-to-face with their own shadows: doppelgangers in red jumpsuits wielding glinting gold scissors. They're called The Tethered, and they've got a score to settle with their better look-alikes.

You could say Us has been hotly anticipated. It follows 2017's Get Out, a tightly-made, critically acclaimed thriller with a social message that earned Peele an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. It helped set him up as a bright light in the realm of thrills and suspense. In fact, he's pretty busy these days with projects like the reboot of the Twilight Zone, for which he's the executive producer and host, and Weird City, a YouTube Original dystopian anthology series.

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Lupita Nyong'o takes a good long look at herself in Us.

Claudette Barius

So it's hard not to make comparisons to Get Out. But where Get Out was a tidy concept, executed in a way that deliberately and carefully guided you through the story toward the big ideas, Us is bigger, broader and perhaps less neat.

One of the inevitable questions people will ask about Us is whether it's scarier than Get Out. Peele gets the dread machine going in the first scene at a beach-side amusement park, and the tensest moments include the Wilson family trying to figure out why people outside are trying to get in. And that old horror staple, the ominous Bible verse, will never not be creepy -- in this case, Jeremiah 11:11. You can see the uncomprehending terror on Lupita Nyong'o's face as she stares at her Tethered counterpart, tears streaming down her cheeks.

But while Us shoots for a next level of frightening, it runs into a few weak spots along the way.

For one, we learn the Tethered aren't just knocking on the Wilsons' door. But that larger plot is pretty vague.

The effectiveness of the movie's humor is also tough to gauge. The audience at SXSW was extremely game, laughing uproariously, even in places where it wasn't entirely clear whether there was a joke to be had -- like when the Tethered first show up in the Wilsons' driveway, and Gabe Wilson (Winston Duke), who'd been dadding it up hard (in the best way) since the start of the movie, goes outside with a bat and some adopted bravado to try and get these mysterious figures to leave. The audience howled.

In a horror film a well-placed quip can cut the tension to not only temporarily relieve the audience but also enable the tension to build back up again. Stick it in the wrong place and the laughs just undercut everything around it.

Throughout the film, we're shown lots of mirrors and reflections, visually reflecting the theme. After all, the Wilsons are seeing themselves like they never have before, though warped.

Similarly, Us mirrors Get Out. It's more scary fare with social commentary. But the copy's never quite the same as the original.

Want another take on Us? See GameSpot's review here.