Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

December 9, 2023

“Us” brings a fresh take to the Doppelgänger tale

The doppelgänger tale is a story that film has touched on before. On the heavier end of the scale, they could view Denis Villeneuve’s excellent “Enemy” or Richard Ayoade’s “The Double.” If you’re looking for something more light-hearted, break out a VHS of “The Parent Trap”. Though it definitely falls on the heavy end of that scale, Jordan Peele’s sophomore feature “Us” is a movie that all fans of the genre, and horror in general, should treat themselves to.
“Us” has an easy to grasp set-up. Adelaide Wilson, played spectacularly by Lupita Nyong’o, is on a lake house vacation with her family near a beach she visited as a child. While at that beach, she was separated from her family and wandered into a mirror maze, where she is traumatized when she runs into a little girl who looks exactly like her. Now, her family is back near that same beach, and her husband Gabe, played by Winston Duke, wants to visit it.
Despite Adelaide’s protests, they go to the beach to meet some friends, both of them hilarious performances by Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss. At the beach, Adelaide’s son Jason encounters a strange man, facing the sea with blood dripping from his hand. That night, four people show up on the driveway of the lake house. It’s not long before the family realizes that the people on the driveway are slightly twisted versions of themselves, and they’re not just there to talk about how weird and strange that is.
The details are fairly simple, but it’s a benefit here, as it gives the actors plenty of room to play around in a very appealing premise. It’s been said in other reviews of doppelganger movies that playing a copy of a character is a challenge any actor will jump at, and every performance in “Us” makes the best of it. Winston Duke is threatening to the extreme as his hulking alter ego and Lupita Nyong’o’s pained line delivery and haunting gaze means that there’s not a single comfortable moment when her double is on screen.
The thing that can make or break horror movies that revolve around a family is child actors, but this movie doesn’t suffer from them. Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex both give great performances as Zora, the snarky older sister, and Jason, the energetic younger brother.
Though the performances are fantastic, there’s, even more, to appreciate in this movie. The cinematography is good, the opening credits sequence and early scenes at the carnival being the best examples. The final act of the movie also includes a grim fight scene that can be described as nothing less than mesmerizing in its framing. The score accompanies these artistic flourishes well, all plucked strings and detuned pianos, but with a mix of occasional throbbing synth that’s a nice change of music pace that has dominated horror films recently.
The movie isn’t without its flaws though. Despite what innovation it does show, “Us” occasionally pulls a section from the book of horror movie cliches. There are a few audio enhanced jump scares, some hallmark poor decision-making, and some slightly clunky dialogue that feels as if it’s just serving its job of propelling us to the next scene.
There’s also the issue of the message of the movie. “Us,” as a follow-up to 2017’s “Get Out”, feels a bit scattered thematically. Though Jordan Peele has said in interviews that he doesn’t consider “Us” the same kind of movie as “Get Out”, it’s tough not to compare them when the previous film was so precise in its social critique.
“Us” introduces a lot of potentially interesting threads, but unlike its antagonists doesn’t bring scissors to cut them off,  leaving hints at deeper examination of what the movie has to say about our struggles with ourselves and class division. Some motifs seem like they’re being established in the beginning and then never really come up again.
Despite these flaws, “Us” is a truly great horror movie. It’s an interesting premise and a platform for some incredible performances. I highly recommend that you avoid reading any more about it, and just get yourself into a theater to see it.  Though there are other movies that deal with evil twins, this movie is so much more than a soulless clone of that sub-genre. It’s entirely its own beast.

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“Us” brings a fresh take to the Doppelgänger tale