‘Us’ review: Terrifying dissection of duality

Jordan Peele’s ‘Us is one of those rare gems that feels like an instant classic right after seeing it.

The theme of duality permeates all over Jordan Peele’s sophomore film Us that even its title serves a double purpose – a noun and an abbreviation for United States (you’ll get it once you’ve seen the film). It’s a horror thriller that pits us against our worst, deprived selves a.k.a. the “id” that we try to suppress. What if that “inner beast” finds it way to grow among the shadows, learns to mimic your behavior and finally starts manifesting us your doppelganger? It might be an abstract concept but writer/director Peele materializes this fear into a feral reality. Indeed, we are our own worst enemies.

It’s only fitting that the film itself can be enjoyed two ways. For the first viewing, you can watch it on a surface level: a home invasion scarefest, with an unforeseen twist that should knock the wind out of your lungs. After that, watching it again can still be a different experience. By the way its screenplay is constructed, the layers of Us don’t reveal themselves until a repeat viewing. By then, the details that may seem trivial to you now starts to lock in place and even the throwaway lines are now charged with a whole new meaning. Take this scene in the trailer as an example. There’s a beautiful overhead shot of the Wilson family walking along the beach, their bodies casting long shadows. There’s no way to know that this shot carries meaning for the rest of the film.

The Tethered. (L-R): Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex and
Lupita Nyong’o play evil versions of themselves.

Actually, going in for more than two viewings might not be a crazy idea at all (provided you have the financial means to do so) for Us is so ripe with symbolism and allegory that even after discussing with friends, I’m pretty sure there are still things that went above your head. Its commentaries might not be as razor-sharp as Peele’s Get Out, but its broad application encompasses undercurrents on social jealousy and underclass oppression – more of that later.

So basically, Us revolves around the Wilson family who’s out on a weekend getaway in Santa Cruz, California. There’s mother Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) who’s been harboring a dark past, father Gabe (Winston Duke) who’s channeling his inner Homer Simpson to bring out some comic relief, daughter Zora (Shadadi Wright Joseph) who prefers the company of her smartphone and the youngest Jason (Evan Alex) who has a liking for wearing masks as if it’s Halloween everyday.

“There’s a family in our driveway.” – Jason

That fateful day, Adelaide has been constantly bothered by a series of omens and alas, these come into fruition when a family of four – that looks exactly like them – starts terrorizing their cottage. Garbed in matching red jumpsuits and brandishing a pair of golden scissors as their choice of weapon – a nod to the working class and the theme of duality, respectively – the film refers to them as “The Tethered.” At the moment, they’re origin and motives remain to be a mystery but one thing’s for sure, they are hostile and they are out for blood. Also, for some reason, only Adelaide’s counterpart, Red, has the ability to speak.

It’s best to cut off from there to avoid spilling the beans but let’s just say that what follows is Peele showing excellent command in his grotesque yet gorgeous filmmaking elements. What I like most about his style is that he doesn’t purely rely on gratuitous violence and lame jumpscares. Aided by Mike Gioulakis’ masterful cinematography and Michael Abel’s atmospheric musical scoring, what ultimately scares you are the social ills attached to the film.

Playing with fire. Evan Alex as Jason and his Tethered counterpart in ‘Us.’

Deprivation and envy are the prime driving forces here. The film is a satirical take on the American caste system – “the haves” and “the have nots.” For every privileged person, there’s someone out there who’s being deprived of a need. It nudges us to look at the plight of the people beneath our class. To consider how our actions ripple on others’ lives in ways more impactful than we perceive. By the time the film gets to its exposition dump, it evokes more questions in your head – some gets answered, others don’t. What starts off as a domestic horror proves to be more ambitious and larger in scope. Its resulting conspiracy aspect won’t stand strong against scrutiny, but this film simply manages to tether to your psyche as soon as the credits roll.

And let us not forget Lupita Nyong’o who takes this great film into a whole new level. Her double-edged performance is jaw-dropping. As Adelaide, her subtle uneasiness carries the film’s weight and as Red, her unbelievable voice sounds like its coming out from a crushed esophagus. There’s a reason why this lady has an Oscar. Us is the perfect vehicle for her acting prowess. It helps as well that the rest of the supporting cast are excellent all throughout in portraying their real and shadow versions. A special mention goes to Elisabeth Moss for making the most of her role.

Lupita Nyong’o plays a resilient mother and wife in ‘Us.’

Us provides more than enough thrills and significance to be included in film discussions years from now. I daresay that this is an instant classic. In a cinematic era full of sequels and reboots, Peele crafts an exquisite gem that looks like nothing else. That being said, the visionary filmmaker is very much welcome to explore more “sunken places” in the horror genre. Or more accurately, the horror genre needs Jordan Peele.

4.5 out of 5 stars
Directed and written by Jordan Peele, ‘Us‘ stars Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Madison Curry, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Anna Diop, Cali and Noelle Sheldon. Run time: 116 minutes.

Horror-thriller ‘Us’ puts Lupita Nyong’o front and center of shocking tale

Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o stars in Universal Pictures’ new horror thriller Us, playing the film’s central character is Adelaide Wilson, a woman hiding an inexplicable childhood trauma from her past.  She discovers that her attempts to push down and suppress the incident now threatens to destroy not only herself, but her husband and her children.

For such an expansive and complex dual role, director-writer Jordan Peele and his fellow filmmakers quickly turned to Nyong’o.

“We’ve admired Lupita for so long, and as we were thinking about casting, we were shocked to realize that she’s never been the star of a film, but has instead always played these amazing supporting roles,” producer Ian Cooper says. “So we were excited at the opportunity to have her as the anchor at the center of this film. Lupita is someone audiences feel they can access and have an identification with; she’s someone you want to spend time with, but she’s also so good at turning the screw a bit and making you feel suddenly alienated from her as well. That duality in her performance was perfect for this film, on multiple levels.”

Nyong’o has vivid memories of her first meetings with Peele about the roles.

“At first, every time I spoke to Jordan about these roles, I felt like I needed to sign up for philosophy, psychology and sociology courses at a university to be able to play them,” Nyong’o says, laughing. “He’s so detailed and, in my first reading of the script, I knew there was more significance to it than I had caught onto. It wasn’t until I spoke to him that I realized how much he was investigating and trying to unpack in this one story within the horror genre.”

Nyong’o continues, “Early on, I asked Jordan which films were influencing this story or had inspired his imagination.  He created a list for me of films to go through that ranged from Dead Again to A Tale of Two SistersThe Shining, Alien, The Birds. That was very informative, not just for how he was framing this world, but also for specific moments in those films that he pays homage to in Us.”

“One of the themes Jordan said he was interested in exploring was the sense that one of America’s biggest flaws is being unable to recognize its own demons,” Nyong’o says. “That is a powerful thing to be able to do, because it’s what real self-acceptance is: the ability to recognize both your most noble and your most destructive sides.” The idea intrigued her. “We cast judgment on people,” Nyong’o says. “We decide who is good and who is bad. But the truth is that we all possess that duality. That’s a really powerful statement to make, for us to recognize that evil is not an external force but is very much part and parcel of our experience as human beings.”

Peele also gave her a warning before she agreed to take on the film. “One of the first things Jordan said to me was, ‘Lupita, you’re going to be very tired,’” she says, laughing. “And he delivered on that promise! I feel like I’ve made five films, and we’ve only just made one. This was a really intense and all-consuming film to be a part of.”

In Philippine cinemas March 20, Us is distributed in the Philippines by United International Pictures through Columbia Pictures. #UsMovie  

About Us

After sending shockwaves across contemporary culture and setting a new standard for provocative, socially-conscious horror films with his directorial debut, Get Out, Academy Award®-winning visionary Jordan Peele returns with another original nightmare that he has written, directed and produced.

Set in present day along the iconic Northern California coastline, Us, from Monkeypaw Productions, stars Oscar® winner Lupita Nyong’o as Adelaide Wilson, a woman returning to her beachside childhood home with her husband, Gabe (Black Panther’s Winston Duke), and their two children (Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex) for an idyllic summer getaway.

Haunted by an unexplainable and unresolved trauma from her past and compounded by a string of eerie coincidences, Adelaide feels her paranoia elevate to high-alert as she grows increasingly certain that something bad is going to befall her family.

After spending a tense beach day with their friends, the Tylers (Emmy winner Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Cali Sheldon, Noelle Sheldon), Adelaide and her family return to their vacation home. When darkness falls, the Wilsons discover the silhouette of four figures holding hands as they stand in the driveway. Us pits an endearing American family against a terrifying and uncanny opponent: doppelgängers of themselves.

Lupita Nyong’o lends voice to Wolf, Raksha in ‘The Jungle Book’

Raksha, a loving and fiercely protective mother wolf, cares deeply for all of her pups—including man-cub Mowgli (Neel Sethi), whom she adopts as one of her own when he’s abandoned in the jungle as an infant.

Oscar® winner Lupita Nyong’o (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) was called on to help bring Raksha to life, in Disney’s new family adventure “The Jungle Book,” based on Rudyard Kipling’s timeless stories and inspired by Disney’s classic animated film.

“We relied a little more on Kipling when it came to Raksha,” says director Jon Favreau. “The wolves have a much greater significance in his stories, which was important to me.”

“I just love my character,” says Nyong’o. “She is the protector, the eternal mother. The word Raksha actually means protection in Hindi. I felt really connected to that, wanting to protect a son that isn’t originally hers but one she’s taken for her own.

“I really enjoyed preparing for this and learning about wolves and how social they are, how they stick together,” continues Nyong’o. “There’s such an order—a hierarchy—to a wolf pack. Mowgli tries to fit in with the other wolf pups. He has his challenges, but he is very much a part of the pack as far as Raksha is concerned.”

Producer Brigham Taylor credits the actress with channeling her inner wolf. “Lupita just nailed the emotion of this character, which wasn’t really fleshed out in the animated version,” he says. “She intuitively captured that bond between an adoptive mother and her son.”

Adds Favreau, “She’s elegant and refined, but it’s more than that. She has an accessibility about her that was what we really wanted for Raksha. She feels like a mom, but she clearly comes from somewhere different than where Mowgli does.”

Nyong’o says she was familiar with the story when filmmakers approached her. “I grew up watching the Disney version and loved it so much,” she says. “As a little girl, my favorite character was Baloo. The magic of Mowgli’s story is that every child can identify with that feeling that you are the only one of your kind. I really identified with that idea. And going on an adventure with no adults is the ultimate childhood fantasy. I loved that this kid got to realize himself through this amazing adventure. It’s a wonderful coming-of-age story.”

“The Jungle Book” is an all-new, live-action epic adventure about Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a man-cub raised by a family of wolves. But Mowgli finds he is no longer welcome in the jungle when fearsome tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba), who bears the scars of Man, promises to eliminate what he sees as a threat. Urged to abandon the only home he’s ever known, Mowgli embarks on a captivating journey of self-discovery, guided by panther-turned-stern mentor Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), and the free-spirited bear Baloo (Bill Murray). Along the way, Mowgli encounters jungle creatures who don’t exactly have his best interests at heart, including Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), a python whose seductive voice and gaze hypnotizes the man-cub, and the smooth-talking King Louie (Christopher Walken), who tries to coerce Mowgli into giving up the secret to the elusive and deadly red flower: fire.

The wild adventure swings into Philippine theaters in 3D on Thursday, April 7, 2016. “The Jungle Book” is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures through Columbia Pictures.

Follow the official social media accounts of Disney in the Philippines, namely, (FB) WaltDisneyStudiosPH, (Twitter) @disneystudiosph and (Instagram) @waltdisneystudiosph and use the hashtag #JungleBookPH.

Triptych poster revealed for Disney’s ‘The Jungle Book’

Walt Disney Pictures has unveiled the triptych poster of its new, imaginative take on the classic children’s adventure “The Jungle Book.” The triptych features lead star Neel Sethi who plays Mowgli together with talking animal characters on either side, in a sprawling and extended horizontal shot.

Directed by Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”), based on Rudyard Kipling’s timeless stories and inspired by Disney’s classic animated film, “The Jungle Book” is an all-new live-action epic adventure about Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi), a man-cub who’s been raised by a family of wolves.

But Mowgli finds he is no longer welcome in the jungle when fearsome tiger Shere Khan (voice of Idris Elba), who bears the scars of Man, promises to eliminate what he sees as a threat. Urged to abandon the only home he’s ever known, Mowgli embarks on a captivating journey of self-discovery, guided by panther-turned-stern mentor Bagheera (voice of Ben Kingsley), and the free-spirited bear Baloo (voice of Bill Murray).

Along the way, Mowgli encounters jungle creatures who don’t exactly have his best interests at heart, including Kaa (voice of Scarlett Johannsson), a python whose seductive voice and gaze hypnotizes the man-cub, and the smooth-talking King Louie (voice of Christopher Walken), who tries to coerce Mowgli into giving up the secret to the elusive and deadly red flower: fire.

The all-star cast also includes Lupita Nyong’o as the voice of the fiercely protective mother wolf Raksha, and Giancarlo Esposito as the voice of wolf pack’s alpha male Akela.

The wild adventure swings into Philippine theaters in 3D on April 2016. “The Jungle Book” is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures through Columbia Pictures.

Follow the official social media accounts of Disney in the Philippines, namely, (FB) WaltDisneyStudiosPH, (Twitter) @disneystudiosph and (Instagram) @waltdisneystudiosph and use the hashtag #JungleBookPH.