Adelaide and her happy family travel to the beach house, planning to unwind and catch up with old friends. But something wicked this way comes, and when a hellmouth in a hall of mirrors vomits up a whole new level of home invasion, the family finds out how it really feels to “watch yourself” through the looking glass.
A lot of reviews comprise lists of easter eggs and attempts at “decoding”. US, an allegorical dystopic vision of the U.S., takes basic Body Snatchers as a thriller-base and overlays it with a codified mind map, using 80s pop culture references as its ciphers. It’s difficult to crowbar any character development into such a tight and busy horror-thriller structure. As his parents and older sister battle their shadow selves, Jason and his doppelganger share a fairly harmless moment in the closet next to a pile of boardgames including GUESS WHO, the game where there’s a Susan for every Susan and a George for every George. But the Susans are both optimistic boss babes and the Georges are both depressive Russians. In this universe, the shadow is the id kind of shadow: the side of you that catches your own reflected eye in the dark window of an empty tv or phone screen, wall-eyed and disaffected, simmering with impotent frustration – the antithesis to the aspirational counter of blessings you feel pressured by society to model. But it’s easy to get distracted from the messaging, and slightly baffled, by all the wonderful easter eggs and sweet conceits. The single glove was put in to evoke child-catchers Jackson and Krueger. There’s persistent numerology – twin sets of legs 11, in one instance leading us down a rabbit hole of notorious lamenter Jeremiah, and bringing actual evil into the mix.
It’s tricky to examine the family members too deeply without spoiling the plot; but then again, the plot twists don’t really add anything because the basic premise is rich enough. But despite a set of excellent performances, the characters never quite elicit enough affection to charge the sense of jeopardy. There’s enough humour to defuse the tension of the hostage situation, but not quite enough to bring the hapless victims to life and add much-needed investment in the cat-and-mouse.
The bad guys are fascinating, and would have benefitted from permission to chew more scenery. It’s usually a good idea to let a comedian play a dark character – such as Robin Williams in ONE HOUR PHOTO or Jim Carrey in THE CABLE GUY. Tim Heidecker as a shadow is awkwardly funny, like Edgar the Bug in MEN IN BLACK, but he’s really nothing more than a puppet. Under Peele’s direction, these excellent actors hit some peculiar, mismatched tones, like a broken xylophone. Elisabeth Moss and certainly Lupita N’Yongo know exactly how to be terrifying. When you go to bed, if you are sensible, you probably check the corner of your ceiling for Toni Collette every night; after you see this you’ll also find yourself checking the not-quite-dirty-clothes chair for Lupita Nyong’o. Maybe a concept this powerful deserves a mini series, so we can explore its underworld and feel its resonance more thoroughly?