Jordan Peele follows up his 2017 hit Get Out with his latest horror/thriller, Us. After delivering the most culturally significant horror film in decades, Peele has become the new face of horror. Many have compared Peele to likes of Rod Sterling and Alfred Hitchcock in terms of his use of horror and suspense to reflect society. Peele’s next project has him taking over the reigns of the late great Rod Sterling as the mastermind behind The Twilight Zone. With Peele’s sophomore film in Us, the comedian turned director proves that Get Out was anything but a fluke.
WARNING THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS SPOILERS
Us – Synopsis
The film opens in 1986 with young Adelaide on a vacation with her family at the Santa Cruz boardwalk. She is separated from her parents and journeys off into a hall of mirrors. In seeing her reflection everywhere, Adelaide runs into a doppelganger version of herself. After this traumatic experience Adelaide refuses to speak to anyone on what she experienced.
In present day Adelaide and her husband Gabe take their children on a vacation to the same boardwalk that once haunted Adelaide’s childhood. After a day at the beach, the Wilson family returns to their vacation home only to be approached by doppelganger versions of themselves. This version has come take from the family what was never given to them.
What begins as a home invasion style attack, the family realizes this is a worldwide overtake. The Wilson’s neighbors the Tyler’s are attacked by their doppelgangers as well. The Wilson family seeks refuge at the Tyler’s home by taking over the doppelganger family. As they look to escape this nightmare, the family finds their way back to the Santa Cruz coast to make their way to Mexico.
The Wilson’s son Jason is taken by Adelaide’s doppelganger Red back to the fun-house of mirrors where they first met. Red reveals that the doppelgangers are government experiments designed to replicate every living human. Adelaide overcomes her other self only to reveal she was originally a member of the doppelganger experiments. The Wilson’s look to leave this nightmare behind them as they drive off unsure who or what was the enemy all along.
What I Liked
As a film Us stands out as a tour de force for actress Lupita Nyong’o. In her first role as a lead, Nyong’o proves why she is one of the best actresses working. She shines in her ability to play the duality and struggle of both Adelaide and Red. Lupita masterfully shows heartbreak, regret and struggle within both characters. Without this award worthy performance, the message of our “fight” against “the other” would be null and void.
The entire supporting cast shines as well. Winston Duke delivers a star making performance as Gabe. He brings the charm and humor needed to balance the high concept scenarios Peele puts his characters through. Backed by a stellar screenplay from Jordan Peele, Us is just as much a comedy as it is a horror film.
Us is first and foremost a horror film, but the comedy is just as sharp as the scares. Peele knows when to bring the audience back in with a laugh, only to put them right back on the edge of their seat within the same scene. Peele’s work as a screenwriter prove that he understands how influential the genre of horror can be. With Get Out and now Us, it is clear that The Twilight Zone was a major influencing on shaping his career.
My plot synopsis absolutely does not do this movie justice. Us warrants multiple viewings as the film cannot be fully comprehended under a single viewing. Peele once again uses his film as a platform for social commentary. But unlike his commentary of racial injustice in Get Out, Peele tackles the divide of the American social classes.
The tethered or shadows of our main characters are a reflection of societal class. The Wilson family is well off as far as financial stability. They are shown with a lake house and a boat. Luxuries that would put them in the upper-middle class. The tethered on the other hand are relegated to underground tunnels and surviving on rabbit meat. As with rabbits, the tethered are metaphorically caged and relegated as to nothing more than animals.
Peele use of imagery and symbolism is leaps and bounds the most impressive aspect of the film. He references many classic fairy-tales and fantasy stories including Snow White, Alice in Wonderland, and Red Riding Hood. Peele also uses pop culture to influence character perspectives on society. The character of Red is influenced by two very important elements from her childhood.
One includes Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Thriller was one of the most popular songs and music videos of the time. Red was wearing a Thriller t-shirt when she was left in the world of the tethered. This left the character to influence the look of the tethered to mimic that of Michael Jackson. The tethered dress in red suits and wear one glove, both of which are very apparent in the Thriller music video.
“They look exactly like us. They think like us. They know where we are.”
The biggest pop culture of the film is the 1986 Hands Across America event. The event saw millions of Americans join hands in effort to end homelessness. Red uses this same concept in her fight to unbound the tethered from the rest of the world. The tethered join hands across the nation after removing their doppelganger counterparts. For me I read this hands across America as something completely different.
In present day America we are threatened by the thoughts of “the other”. Many times this term is used to describe people from another country. The character of Adelaide makes reference that her family should try to flee to Mexico. The family is stopped on the beach of Santa Cruz by a literal human wall. Much like the political attempts to build a wall in America, the tethered have built a wall to protest the injustice they have been put through. The wall here is used to keep people in just as much as a proposed wall would be used to keep “others” out.
What Could Have Been Improved
Us is a film that could not help but stick in my head days after viewing. My initial thoughts on the film were not all positive. After looking back on what I saw I began to understand what Peele was going for. Us is unlike any other horror film you will this year. It doesn’t use jump scares or unsettling images to disturb you. Rather it holds a mirror up to society and says “look”.
The only real negative I have for the film is that it could have benefited from the use of disturbing imagery. The world of the tethered is rather bland and boring, and for someone who is obviously a fan of the genre I was surprised Peele did not use that landscape more to his advantage.
Us – Final Thoughts
A single review like this cannot fully encapsulate what Jordan Peele has created with Us. The film transcends the genre of horror, as Peele once again proves that this is a genre to take seriously. With Get Out and Us Peele has delivered two modern masterpieces of the genre. Peele has proven that he is now among the greats of the genre. One can only wonder what issues he will tackle next.
Overall Score 5/5