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Director: Jordan Peele
Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Anna Diop
Screenplay: Jordan Peele
Running time: 116 minutes
Jordan Peele wants people to leave theatres after they watch his latest horror-thriller "Us" ready to have a conversation.
And have a conversation they will. Make that conversations, plural.
The latest nightmare-inducing film from the writer-director of "Get Out" will have audiences on the edge of their seat from its opening frames at an amusement park in Santa Cruz to its smirking, blood-soaked final scenes. It’s a movie that isn’t for the squeamish or for audiences wanting storylines wrapped up in a tidy bow.
After the success of his Oscar-winning social thriller, Peele has proven that "Get Out" was no one-off. The types of scares he delivers and emotions he provokes in "Us" are wholly unique and position him to be cinema’s modern horror master.
And in case there was any doubt, his latest is a movie that’s meant to be experienced in a crowded theatre. The frights and the film’s plot twists will be deepened in a roomful of strangers. "Get Out" was my favourite moviegoing experience of 2017, and "Us" is likely to be my favourite theatrical outing of 2019.
The storyline opens in 1986 where we meet young Adelaide as she traipses through a theme park with her parents. As kids are wont to do, she wanders off and finds herself inside Vision Quest — an eerie hall of mirrors. There, she comes face-to-face with her doppelganger. As it turns out, the encounter is so unsettling, she doesn’t speak afterwards.
When the action picks up in present day, Adelaide (Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o) is vacationing with her family, husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and their children Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and young son Jason (Evan Alex) at a cottage in Northern California. Gabe suggests the Wilson family take a trip to nearby Santa Cruz to meet their friends Josh and Kitty (Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss) and their teenage daughters, but Adelaide is leery. The incident in 1986 still haunts her.
And after a day of strange coincidences, Adelaide wants to scram, feeling like a “black cloud” is on the way.
But it’s too late. With the kids tucked in bed, or so they think, Jason wearily announces, “There’s a family in our driveway.”
Gabe tries to scare them off (in one of the film’s brief comedic moments), but you already know that isn’t going to work.
In short order, the silhouetted family storm the Wilsons’ home and reveal themselves as red jumpsuit-wearing doppelgangers. The evil just outside is … them. And it’s Nyong’o’s raspy-voiced double who speaks threateningly: “We’re Americans,” she throatily whispers. “We’re exactly like you.”
As she explains, and she’s the only one that talks, they’re “The Tethered” and they’ve come to reclaim the lives they feel should be theirs.
It will frustrate some viewers that Peele doesn’t expand too much on the backstory of “The Tethered.” And to write about it any further would venture into spoiler territory. But conversations will abound of their metaphorical significance: are they the people we so callously ignore on our streets, in poorer parts of the world, at our borders … or are they an angrier representation of the lives we didn’t lead?
But as “The Tethered” re-emerge from a mysterious underground bunker to terrorize their counterparts, Peele punctuates his film with symbols that will have viewers scrambling for their phones the moments the end credits roll. And there are two scenes involving classic songs — one by the Beach Boys, the other by N.W.A. — that will forever change how you hear those tunes from now on.
Beyond these vague conceits, it’s a hard movie to write about without spoiling its surprises. But the scares will have you shifting uncomfortably, your nails digging firmly into the armrest.
"Us" doesn’t try to answer what the purpose of “The Tethered” was. And Peele doesn’t try to put a period on his story, with a final scene that will have you wondering what comes next.
Instead, he’s delivered a plot that’s rife full of questions. So be prepared to have a conversation when it’s all said and done.
Choose your moviegoing date wisely.
"Us" opens in theatres Friday, March 22
By Mark Daniell
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019