Film Review: Us
By Erik Nielsen
(warning mild spoilers ahead)
Similar to Jodan Peele’s previous film, I wanted to watch Us again, immediately after my first viewing, to pick up on any visual cues I might’ve missed. By no fault of Peele, one thing I will admit that Us suffers from is the fact that, like me, many will be trying to unpack the hidden meaning, in real time, which may ultimately distract from the experiential nature of a tight, intense genre film and leave some disheveled. But to that point, Peele has successfully cemented his style as a socio-horror auteur with his second directorial effort.
Us is fractured between two time periods. The first is set in 1985, the perfect year and decade. Since it not only provides insight into the evolving, twisty, nervy plot-line but also appropriately contextualize the influences of Jordan Peele. We see multiple VHS and cassette tapes in the opening frame, including All The Right Stuff, Nightmare on Elm Street and C.H.U.D. Peele, like with Get Out, packs his frames with information and easter eggs that are subtle nods to his influence but also reveal the overarching message.
We learn that in 1985, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’O) had a traumatic experience as a child. Walking away from her parents at a pier during nightfall, she walks through a hall of mirrors and finds a person who looks exactly like her, and she is petrified. Flash forward to present day, her and her husband Gabe, (Winston Duke), take their kids to a shore house.
The group is like most American, working-class families, looking to the shores for a little family getaway. Soon after arriving at the same beach where Adelaide’s past trauma occurred, strange synchronicities start to happen. Before you know it, the tension rises to a peak as the doppelgangers arrive at their house. Dressed in red jumpsuits, wearing gloves that are a clear nod to Freddy Kreuger of the “Nightmare” series and gold scissors liken to some fucked up-twisted fairy tale - the introduction to these creatures is shocking and memorable. Peele’s camera movement is on par with Hitchcock as it slowly lurks around the house documenting the entirety of the home invasion.
Although the film, like Get Out, is slow to develop, once it starts rolling, it does not stop. We learn, to the surprise of the audience, the “Tethered”, who draw inspiration from the Hands Across America campaign in the 80’s as a way to combat homelessness and poverty, another slight hint to the stories overall message. The Tethered are not just there to terrorize this one family, but in actuality, the entire United States, as there are doppelgangers for everyone. And that is when the madness ensues.
Aptly titling the film Us reveals part of Peele’s perspective (U-S). Get Out was an assail on white liberalism, but this film is going after the entire country. Even when Adelaide is tied up, horrified of what the doppelgangers are, she asks the same question and the only response her doppelganger has is “We’re Americans.” What then ensues are a series of showdowns between “Us” and the “Tethered”, as the family tries to figure where exactly these creatures came from.
All the lead performances are incredible and multifaceted, including the kids who have to display a duality of innocence and terror, requiring depth beyond their years. But Lupita is the real revelation, as it’s her first starring role (which that in of itself is crazy). Sure, she won an Oscar - but in a supporting role, which always seems to be the case for her, and that is what is so refreshing about the arrival of Jordan Peele as a Hollywood director. Peele is aware of the moment he is creating for Lupita. He wants her to shine. Like the Aliens franchise did for Sigourney Weaver, Peele wants to turn Lupita into a horror/action icon - an actress who is deserving of her own film.
The script for Us is not as tight as Get Out, but it’s covering more ground, it has more to say and it does not feature a crowd-pleaser of an ending. However, it does work as an engaging and thrilling commentary on the state of “Us” and elevates Jordan Peele’s visual style as a director.