US ***** USA 2019 Dir: Jordan Peele. 116 mins
Writer-director Jordan Peele’s follow-up to the deservedly admired GET OUT is a very different film stylistically but thematically it also has its finger on the pulse of contemporary America…and beyond. In a late 1980’s prologue, while the country gears up for “Hands Across America”, a little girl appears to meet with her malevolent doppelganger inside a carnival’s spooky maze. She grows up to be Lupita Nyong’o with a family of her own comprising two smart kids (Evan Alex, Shahadi Wright Joseph) and a laidback dad / husband (Winston Duke) with a penchant for bad Knock, Knock jokes. They head off for a break at their summer beach home, where they are confronted with a family of ominous doubles in the driveway. “What are you people?” “We’re Americans”.
The America in US is a horrifyingly recognisable world. Peele is a funny guy and there are genuine laughs throughout (notably a terrific gag during the most intense sequence involving “Fuck the Police”), but the dialogue captures a paranoid populace on the edge of massive change. One character highlights the two existential threats to our kids in 2019 (terrorists and perverts, apparently) while another notes casually “Nobody cares about the end of the world”. The home-invasion centrepiece is superbly executed, unveiling an unforgettably unsettling alternate family and giving Nyong’o in particular a bone-chilling second role as a doppelganger matriarch with a mirthless laugh and an unnerving vocal tic. Peele revels in pop culture references and observational humour: a racially loaded O.J. joke, a massacre set to “Good Vibrations”, a prelude to survivalist violence that name-checks HOME ALONE. The escalating, apocalyptic scenario nods to Romero in its use of the news media, while Peele’s framing owes a debt to peak-era Carpenter and the doppelganger concept plays out like a particularly arresting TWILIGHT ZONE premise for a world still horribly divided by class, race and fear. The denouement brings startling twists and turns while finding equal impact in a subtle mother-son moment and one final, iconic aerial shot that confirms US as one of the strongest American horror films in years. Addition props to Michael Abels for his distinctive, jarring original score.
Review by Steven West