Us: It's in the Details

Warning: spoilers ahead!

This past weekend, I ended up going to see Jordan Peele’s Us for the second time. The first time I saw it, it stuck with me for days. It was the first movie in years that actually scared me. Not in the jump-scare sense. Instead, the film cultivates a deep sense of wrongness that sticks with the viewer.

After both viewings, the person I was with said, “It really wasn’t that scary,” and they were right; it wasn’t. But Us is artful in its details. Peele used a delicate hand in directing an atmosphere that tells your subconscious that something is wrong.

Image Source: Dominik Lange

The film is filled with little odd tidbits: things that just seem off. The whole thing manages to find a place in the uncanny valley and just chill there. For example, when Adelaide tells her son to snap along with “I Got 5 on It”, the rhythm of her snapping sounds off. She is still keeping time, but it sounds off. Upon my watch, I realized that she was just snapping on the down-beats, i.e. the beats that are between the up-beats, of which someone would normally snap along to in a song. The down-beats are a mirror for the up-beats.

Also, just the little plays with imagery, like when the family first arrives at the beach, are a bit off. There is a crane shot of them walking along, their shadows being cast long above them on the sand. The family is stalked by the shadows as they go to meet their friends.

All of these details speak to Peele as a director and show his influences. The first thing that popped into my mind was how the directing style reminded me of Kubrick’s direction of The Shining, a film filled with moving furniture and other tricks to play with the viewer’s subconscious. It’s a type of horror that's very subtle but often times the most effective at creating an atmosphere for the narrative to exist in.

Image Source: Charles de Luvio

Along with these details, the characters’ writing and lead performances truly deliver a highly effective thriller. Lupita Nyong’o’s performance is completely on point for both her and her doppelganger. All of the performances could be seen as almost comedic, and that for some reason makes it all the more unnerving. Throughout the whole film, you’re not sure if you’re supposed to laugh or be afraid, which I think adds to the experience. The premise of the film is a mix of ridiculous scenarios but realistic solutions.

Overall, the details of the film combined with the bold visuals and direction make it a powerhouse in the contemporary thriller genre.