By Robert Moyes
Monday Magazine columnist
Horror films virtually never get honoured at Oscar time, but when writer-director Jordan Peele got one of those golden statuettes for Best Original Screenplay for Get Out, there was general agreement that his bloodcurdlingly outrageous satire of race relations in America deserved to be one of the most talked-about films of 2017.
Peele is once again getting a standing ovation from most critics: his newest film, Us, is a provocative blend of classic horror tropes, sly social commentary and wacky one-liners that will keep the audience terrified, off-balance and nervously laughing while trying to figure out just what the heck is going on.
The story begins with a flashback as a young black girl named Adelaide gets lost at a beachside carnival and suffers some kind of deep, inexplicable trauma. Jump ahead to the present day and the girl is now a married mom of two (Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave) who is just starting a family vacation.
After setting up some quirky family dynamics, Peele delivers the first of many shocks: it’s nighttime and four people are mysteriously arrayed outside the house that Adelaide and her family are renting. A terrifying home invasion soon occurs – and the interlopers are near-perfect doubles for the four hapless Wilsons. Adelaide’s doppelganger, armed with a large pair of scissors and a creepily slurred voice, is the ringleader … and her intentions are lethal. But not moreso than Adelaide herself, who proves to be a dab hand with a fireplace poker.
As the Wilsons fight back, the action rips along for the next 90 minutes, a sequence of jolts and jumps as Peele expertly mixes horror, suspense and mystery as this strange and terrifying tale gradually unfolds.
So, is this an improvement on Get Out? Well, not really. The explanation that ultimately emerges is weirdly, expansively baroque. For horror fans who like it tight and nasty, this will seem too self-consciously intellectual to be a visceral knockout punch.
En route to the climax, though, Peele directs like a master. And he gets a stunning pair of performances out of Nyong’o. (Praise, also, to Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss, who has a wicked amount of fun in a similar double role.) Adrenaline junkies who are bored with the current crop of horror franchises like The Conjuring and Insidious are well advised to pay their $12 and strap themselves in for a memorable ride.
Stars: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss
Directed by Jordan Peele
Rated 14A for violence, frightening scenes and corse language
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