The Bock’s Office: Self-reflection is the scariest thing of all in ‘Us’
"Us," rated RRating: 3.5 out of 4 stars Running time: 116 minutes Starring: Lupita Nyong'o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker Now playing at Steamboat Springs’ Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas.
What darkness is within the souls of mankind, what would it be like unchecked, and what would a diet of rabbits be like?
The answer lies in “Us.”
It’s vacation time for the Wilson family.
After a long drive to their beach house in Santa Cruz, California, parents Adelaide and Gabe (Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke), daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and son Jason (Evan Alex) are ready to relax and enjoy some sun and fun.
However, Adelaide has some hesitation about coming back to the site where she had a traumatic experience during her childhood, and an increasing sense of anxiety keeps creeping up on her as the day continues.
The feeling of dread she can’t fully explain is suddenly justified when the electricity in the house abruptly goes out that night. Though far more concerning is the appearance of a silent group of people in their driveway.
Despite the Wilsons’ best efforts, the shadowy figures easily force their way into the house, and though Adelaide and Gabe are sure they’re about to be robbed or killed, the situation is far more terrifying than they expected when they find the intruders look exactly like them.
Nyong’o provides a mesmerizing dual performance as both a typical middle-class mom and her lookalike, a cold-blooded matriarch of a clan that only a mother could love, clad in Hannibal Lecter apparel and carrying around pairs of golden scissors.
Though Adelaide’s doppelgänger, Red, utilizes a raspy, gaspy tone that immediately jars you, the difference between the two is apparent in far more than speech, with body movement playing a big part. Whereas Adelaide’s motion is fluid and easy, Red is sharp, calculated and shocking in every move she makes.
Duke similarly explores two polar opposites as Gabe, a chatty and overly confident dad, and Abraham, a hulking brute who speaks only in grunts and communicates in beatings.
If there’s anything worse than a sarcastic teenager it’s one who’s always smiling but has pure evil in their eyes, as seen with Joseph as Zora and her sinister twin, Umbrae, whom you just know would stab you with no hesitation and no remorse.
But, of all these grotesqueries, young Alex is by far the creepiest and the closest in personality to his more human counterpart. Whereas Jason insistently keeps a Chewbacca mask ready at all times as his own version of a security blanket, his mirror match, Pluto, always wears a full facial mask to cover some horrific burns.
That’s still hardly the biggest concern for a child you might call feral if it weren’t more accurate to refer to him as domesticated, acting like a trained dog beholden to his mother.
After a tremendous directorial debut with “Get Out,” Jordan Peele keeps the same eerie tone while putting together another suspenseful saga. It’s a horror show to be sure, though it’s not one that relies too long on any one way to scare people.
The first act is one of pure goosebumps as we are faced with a very real, very grounded home invader scenario with a band of psychos who have more in mind than burglary. The height of terror peaks there as the novelty starts to wear off, but Peele’s ideas keep going as he hits notes of comedy, primarily with the Wilson family’s bickering couple friends (Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker), who are also on vacation and about to meet some nasty surprises.
The more backstory that’s revealed to the audience, the less shocking things become, as is the case with most horror movies, but Peele compensates for this with purposeful camera shots that keep us on edge, a string-heavy musical score that would do Bernard Herrmann proud, and a cast that is clearly committed.
Plus, if you’re paying attention to the nuanced clues in the background, it will mean all that much more upon the big reveal.
“Us” is bigger in scope and ambition than “Get Out,” and though Peele’s sophomore feature as a filmmaker comes close to suspenseful perfection, it can’t quite undo some of its hindrances. But, if we only expected flawless movies, Hollywood would shut down tomorrow.
Either way, Peele’s latest horror flick is right on track with his first as we await more from the man who can make us laugh and shriek within minutes of each other.
Just keep watching those mirrors…