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Review: Us – “A meticulous and unrelenting American nightmare”

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Written and directed by Jordan Peele (Get Out), Us stars Lupita Nyong’o (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), Winston Duke (Black Panther), Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale) and Tim Heidecker (Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!).

Adelaide Wilson (Nyong’o) suffered a traumatic event while lost on the Santa Cruz boardwalk as a child. Now, 33 years later, she returns to the area with her husband, Gabe (Duke), and their two children for a family vacation in a summer home just up the coast from friends Kitty (Moss) and Josh (Heidecker).

After an anxious day at the beach, the family return to their house but are later menaced by four guttural home-invaders armed with razor-sharp golden scissors. The attackers turn out to be evil versions of each member of the Wilson family – who must now band together to survive against their doppelgangers and find out where they came from to have any hope of stopping them.

Lupita Nyong’o is incredible in Us. Playing a dual role as a fierce and heroic mother who battles her PTSD while taking her family by the scruff of the neck to ensure their survival, as well as skin-crawling “bad” version of herself that speaks in a broken croak and is fuelled by vengeance. Either role alone is praise-worthy, but both concurrently shows the skill and breadth of Nyongo’s acting abilities.

Duke plays an affable father – full of Dad jokes and desperate to keep up with the neighbours – but backing his wife to the hilt when the chips are down and he realises that she is their best chance of pulling through. His doppelganger also provides the physical menace and the pairs ongoing battle makes for one of the best set pieces and gags in the film.

These set pieces and gags are two of Jordan Peele’s biggest strengths. At one point when the family are separated and each fighting themselves, he has four equally gripping, surprising and expertly handled set pieces occurring at the same time while cutting between them without losing tension and pace effortlessly.

And the gags are extremely funny. Whether as a tension reliever or a dark chuckle during a particularly gruesome attack they hit every time and make the family and the film very easy to immediately warm to. The kids, Zora and Jason (Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex), feel real and never annoying, while Heidecker’s doppelganger’s sending up of his “good” version is hilarious and “evil” Elisabeth Moss is fucking terrifying.

Parts of the set-up and the explanatory pay-off are a bit fast and loose – with a series of worrying coincidences referenced a lot when we only see one and a half of them – and the baddies origins are a stretch, but do provide a lot of interesting elements to unpack afterwards and some impressive and indelible imagery.

Jordan Peele’s second feature is a meticulous and unrelenting American nightmare in an a-doppel-yptic Twilight Zone. Unforgettable and unsettling, Us will give you the creeps for weeks.

Us is released in the UK on the 22nd of March.

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