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All the fun of the scare in Us

22 March, 2019 — By Dan Carrier

Lupita Nyong’o in Us

US
Directed by Jordan Peele
Certificate 18
☆☆☆

IT is a wonder that any fairgrounds continue to trade, considering how firmly associated they are in the public’s imagination with horror films: from the time-warping merry-go-round in Something Wicked This Way Comes to Westworld’s crazy cyborgs, every generation has its own story set in an amusement park.

So it feels fairly comfortable when Jordan Peele’s film Us begins in a Santa Cruz amusement park, with a pair of bickering parents, a little girl holding a toffee apple, freaky sideshows, oddball pleasure seekers, and a storm on the horizon.

But while this use of a well-trodden template allows the viewer to settle in for what they may think is a predictable ride, Peele has added enough layers to make this feel fresh.

It doesn’t mean this is a particularly good horror – it isn’t, for example, in the same class of production as last year’s Hereditary – but still runs through elements any self-confessed horror fan needs for their fix.

We meet Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) many years after she has wandered off from her folks at the Santa Cruz amusement park. She is returning to the beachside city to stay in a holiday home with her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and two children Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex).

They hang out with their mates Kitty (Elisabeth Moss) and Josh (Tim Heidecker), but all the while poor Adelaide can’t relax, knowing she had encountered something freaky there when she was a child.

And she has good reason – as later that day four people, the exact replicas of Adelaide and her family, appear at the door of their holiday home with evil intent…

At a crucial point in the film, I had hoped it was going to spin off to some weird trip along the lines of John Fowles’ novel The Magus. But instead of following this path, which would have been somehow logical considering what had already come to pass, it degenerates into something a little more like a zombie flick. Tension is washed away with some jokes, and moments rely on splattercore for shock value.

Is there an analogy, as all good horrors should have – a take on the American condition today, a piece of clever social satire going on? Is this film the product of a Trumpian dystopia?

It does have an element of the end of days about it, but any such references feel way too oblique, and tucked away from the simple downright nastiness of having your doppelganger come at you with a large pair of scissors.

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