Review: Jordan Peele's 'Us' highlights the horror within ourselves
Originally published at OU Daily March 20, 2019
Jordan Peele’s sophomore film “Us” is both terrifyingly dark and horrifyingly funny. In a similar vein to “Get Out,” Peele continues his socio-political commentary through satirical humor, symbolism and horror tropes in the psychological horror film.
Directed, produced and written by Peele, “Us” tells the story of the Wilson family on vacation in Santa Cruz, which is shortly hijacked by their villainous doppelgängers who call themselves “the Tethered.”
The film opens in 1986 focusing on a little girl and her parents at a Santa Cruz carnival, a place of cheap thrills and scares. The girl, we learn to be named Adelaide, (Madison Curry) wanders off into a house of horrors with the phrase “Find Yourself” looming over the doorway. Adelaide gets lost in the hall of mirrors and discovers something so shocking, that when she is found again, she is completely mute.
The film transitions to modern-day with the Wilson family – parents Gabe (Wilson Duke) and a grown-up Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) taking their children, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex), on a vacation to their family cabin in Santa Cruz.
As an adult, Adelaide is shaky and quiet, often looking off into the distance to see flashbacks of her childhood memories of the cabin, beach, carnival and individuals. It is through Adelaide and her flashback’s that Peele introduces the audience to his cinematic imagery and symbolism.
Adelaide’s flashbacks show several symbols that repeat throughout the film – the number 11, featured in multiple individual scenes, as well as mention of the Bible scripture Jeremiah 11:11; white rabbits, and golden scissors, to name a few.
The selected music sets every scene with an ominous or comedic tone, matching each character’s breath and response.
As the plot unfolds the audience is introduced to The Tethered, the underclass shadows of the family. While The Tethered symbolize a group of lower-class others, the Wilson’s and those who live above ground symbolize the upper-classes of society. The Tethered show up at the Wilsons’ cabin with one goal: to untether themselves (with golden scissors, no less) from the family, and seemingly, to replace them.
Adelaide’s Tethered counterpart, Red, tells a story in her cracked iconically-horrifying voice, of The Tethered’s plight as the “have-not” shadow-selves of the “haves.” As Red speaks, flashbacks of Adelaide’s growing up years show Red forcibly mimicking everything Adelaide did, in a broken and darker fashion.
Red explains that when Adelaide learned to dance, Red was forced into the same, yet cracked-mirror motions. When Adelaide got married to lovable Gabe, Red was forced to partner with his mute Tethered counterpart, Abraham; when she gave birth to her daughter Zora, Red gave birth to Umbrae, “a monster,” she says. And again, when Adelaide gave birth to her son, Jason, through a C-section, Red birthed an animal-like disfigured creature that was torn from her belly.
As the Tethered attempt to assume the lives of the Wilsons, Adelaide and her family fight back, only to discover that the Tethered are not just their alter-egos. Instead they are part of the millions running rampant and killing their individual surface counterparts en mass across the nation.
The film, drenched in dark comedic relief and a blood splattered clothes, weaves a tale of the haves and have nots. The Tethered, as the have-nots, are symbolically tied to white rabbits in cages, living lesser lives than their surface counterparts, yet undeniably connected.
While “Get Out” analyzed racism, “Us” analyzes the “other,” or the seeming outward threat of difference. Peele asks the audience to consider the “us versus them” mentality, and gives the audience an enemy scarier than a ghost, spirit, or boogeyman.
Through “Us” Peele asks – what if the enemy is us?
“Us” opens in local theaters March 21, and nationwide March 22.