I vividly remember seeing Jordan Peele’s 2017 directorial debut Get Out in the worst theater conditions imaginable. A packed, sold out house of rambunctious patrons ready to get their scare on is my typical worst nightmare when trying to watch a suspenseful thriller. To my astonishment, both the crowd and film were a pleasant experience.
Having little knowledge of what I was in for, Get Out’s unique and eerie premise surprised me in more than one way, and ended up being among the greatest theatrical experiences I’ve ever had. People we’re naturally reacting to the humor and horror in genuine shock without coming across as obnoxious; effectively narrating the emotions everyone was already feeling.
I attempted to recreate the same experience with Jordan Peele’s latest horror film Us, going in without expectations of what was to happen. And in many aspects, Us was an even greater achievement than Get Out, as its true intentions/themes are shrouded in brilliant writing.
Us stars Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke as Adelaide and Gabe Wilson, a close-knit family on a beach vacation. The family trip goes awry when they find themselves stalked by soulless doppelgängers that go by “the Tethered”. Beings that look exactly like them but clad in red jumpsuits, the Tethered mimic their movements and desire to kill the Wilson’s before the night is over. The Wilson’s must stick together and fight for their lives as they try to outwit themselves and comprehend this frightening phenomenon.
Just like Get Out, Us is a highly entertaining movie with complex visuals and obvious double meanings and subtexts accompanying it. Even the most casual of viewers can see the writing on the walls, that Us goes a lot deeper than its terrifying premise.
To my understanding, the Tethered represent the stereotypical American citizen and how we are to conduct ourselves in society. The way we go about life putting on a facade of ourselves and never showing our true colors. Themes of family cohesion and flaky personalities are sprinkled in at key moments before the doppelgangers arrive, and by the films end we’re left asking how well we know our own family and what exactly it means to be human.
I feel this symbolism is displayed prominently by the Tethered all throughout the picture, particularly in their behavior. The men exhibit clichéd dad-like mannerisms (including moronic grunting sounds), the children are commanded to “go play”, and the mother is the family orchestrator/ leader that holds it together.
This message is driven home with multiple references to Hands Across America, the public charity event that had people linking arms across the U.S. to help end hunger and poverty. A rather flaky and unrealistically kindhearted event to reflect on. And Us uses it as a vessel to emphasize fakeness and class divides. A metaphor for mindless American facade and our unwillingness to show our true selves. At one point the leader of the Tethered directly states that they are soulless copies of humans. And when asked, “What are you?” she cleverly remarks, “We’re Americans.”
Several other themes crop up along the story too. Notice the constant imagery of rabbits as well, which often signifies rebirth or resurrection. They’re also coincidentally one of the most popularly cloned animals. I haven’t even mentioned the biblical allegories and references to Abraham and Jeremiah 11:11 that permeate throughout the picture.
My interpretations may be different than yours, in fact I expect them to be. But that just goes to show how multi-layered Us is, woven like a fine quilt. Hypotheses on deeper meanings and symbolism aside, Us is still an effectively terrifying movie from the inside out. As soon as the horrors commence, they keep you nerve-racked and suspicious of scares that could happen at any moment. The doppelgängers feel all-encompassing and powerful, like they could pop up at any second as a shadow in the background waiting to move (as they do on several occasions).
Us makes its heroes more intelligible than typical horror protagonists, as some modern flicks have done in attempts to kill that old trope. But what’s done differently is that some major horror clichés are still purposefully present, and the heroes wittily react to these in rather comedic ways. For example, one character must run back inside of a house for the keys to the car when she notices one of the previously dead doppelgängers is gone. The actress practically winks at the audience with how much a stereotypical horror situation she’s in. And her physical, badass response shows her comedic preparedness to deal with such a clichéd situation.
A story like this is only as strong as its actors, and Us boasts strong performances all across the board. Actors and actresses that bring some genuine humor and raw emotion to a strong script. Top that with the finely-tuned cinematography that’s full of rich imagery and the spine-chilling soundtrack prominently featured, Us turned out to be a Grade-A horror experience. And I’m incredibly thankful I got to see it in a packed theater.
The Verdict: A