Frightfest a compelling ride

By David Kavanagh | posted on July 7, 2019

Rated MA15+

Four out of five stars

COMING off the back of Jordan Peele’s stellar directorial debut Get Out, a lot of folk, myself included, had high expectations for his second stab at the horror genre.

Much like his 2017 surprise frightfest of a hit, this year’s Us pulls from the station with a simple enough premise: a young family, enjoying a getaway at their holiday home, is suddenly terrorised by a group of crazed strangers.

But what might sound almost cliché on paper when you think of all the masked slasher slash home invasion adrenaline jolters of the past few decades soon devolves into something else entirely.

The train you’ve boarded isn’t a train at all. It’s a rollercoaster, and it’s about to derail.

Without wading too deep into spoiler territory, there’s a point in the film where it dawns on you that this thing is going in a very big and very strange direction, and I mean that in the best possible way.

The film’s plotting and pacing benefits tremendously from keeping the questions flowing throughout: Who are these apparent doppelgangers standing in this family’s driveway at night?

What do they want? Why can’t they speak?

All the high hallmarks Peele set in Get Out return in fun new forms here.

The devilishly creepy scenes, although not terrifying, are plentiful and done well and rely more on psychological discomfort than blatant jump scare ‘gotcha’ moments.

The social and political satire, although a little on the nose, is clever, compelling and thought provoking enough not to feel tacked on.

And the humour is excellent, which shouldn’t be a surprise.

If nothing else, Us is a testament to the fact you apparently shouldn’t judge an artist by literally every other thing they’ve worked on previously.

From MadTV and The Muppets to Bob’s Burgers and the goofy sketches of his now disbanded Comedy Central show, Peele has in his time stuck plenty of fingers in plenty of feelgood comedy pies.

But Us proves Peele has the skills, the know how and the passion to craft films that can’t not be talked about.

The laughs you’ll encounter in Us are made all the better by their bloody context and provide something of a nervous catharsis in the midst of all the freakishness.

All that is bolstered further by the fact that the real ‘oh s***’ moments of the film are in the details.

Us is one of those rare, well crafted gems that reward a re-watch tenfold, where the storytelling and characterisation is so precise you’ll notice things you didn’t on your first run.

My partner and I spent a good hour talking about all the things that made more sense in retrospect and the film remained wedged in my head for a good while beyond that.

With all the clues and the call-backs, this film is plenty of fun to dissect and discuss.

Lupita Nyong’o shines in ways I can’t talk about here, Elisabeth Moss is nothing short of wicked, and child actors Shahadi Wright Joseph as Zora and Evan Alex as her brother Jason seem remarkably genuine to the point you almost forget this family doesn’t actually exist.

A good horror film makes you care about the characters, if only so you’re absolutely horrified when they are faced with the dark.

While it doesn’t quite meet the extraordinarily high standards set by Peele’s first terrifying lovechild, due in large part to moments that ask you to suspend your disbelief a little too much,
Us certainly comes close.

It’s a fun and surprising thrill ride well worth the plunge.