By Cynthia Bujnicki
“A family’s serene beach vacation turns to chaos when their doppelgängers appear and begin to terrorize them.” —IMDB
What a magnificent film. Jordan Peele has brought something fresh to the genre of horror, giving audiences something to think about.
Us opens in 1985, following a young Adelaide on the boardwalk with her parents celebrating her birthday. However, as most children do when they are young and left unsupervised, she walks off, to explore, entering a house of mirrors. Here, audiences are given a quick glimpse of the young girl with a look of shock and horror before cutting to the present. Adelaide and her family are on their way to the beach house, and then back to the beach, memories of which continue to haunt her. On their way, they encounter a horrific scene that is a prelude of events to come.
The tension is slow and growing throughout the beginning before finally taking off and introducing the doppelgängers. It is at this point where the audience gets to see the horror, the insanity, and the terror in the forms of the shadow people, as Red calls them. Lupita’s acting here is fantastic as Red, taking on the role of the leader and telling her life story. Her voice is scratchy and dark, completely twisted and juxtaposes her role as Adelaide. She is one of the Tethered and has no real control over her actions, forced to mimic those above. So she married the shadow of the man Adelaide married and had the same number of children.
The symbolism makes way for an exciting way to interpret the film, and the symbolism within it, which is what makes Peele’s work so thought-provoking. There are many ways in which the film could be interpreted. The Tethered could be demons, dark reflections of those above, which could be construed as Heaven. Those in Hell (or Tartarus) want what those in Heaven or the Elysian Fields, so they seek to escape their hell and gain governance over their own lives. However, there is also another way the film could be interpreted, the more superficial being that everyone has a dark side to them, a madness within them that lurks beneath the pleasant façade everyone gives to people. It is thrilling to see the dark halves fight against the light, to see them challenge one another. Us is a film that makes the audience think about these, about heaven and hell and about our darker selves we all know we have.
These are just two layers and two interpretations of the film, which is what makes it so good. Peele, who wrote, directed and produced the film can layer his story with multiple meanings, incorporating symbolism to make the audience think while also keeping them intrigued and terrified by what is going on in the film.
What Peele is also able to do is incorporate comedy into the film without detracting from the thrill of the film. These moments give the perfect amount of balance to the darkness in the movie. Peele is quickly becoming a master of this genre by paying homage to certain classics in subtle ways, and by subverting the expectation of the genre by giving viewers a thought-provoking experience. (★★★★ | A)
Directed by Jordan Peele
Written by Jordan Peele
Distributed by Universal Pictures