After leaving the screening for Jordan Peele’s new thriller, “Us,” my companion and I spent the entire 20 minute car ride home sparring over the bounty of questions and theories left in our guts after spending a tidy two hours enthralled with this new piece of cinematic curiosity.
Those that choose to spend $15 to watch “Us” based on their experience with Peele’s former foray into the thriller/horror genre, “Get Out,” might have a hard time appreciating the slight turn the director took this time around. While there are some parallels between the two films, “Us” feels like a deeper dive into the sunken place.
The movie begins back in 1986 on the Santa Cruz boardwalk at night, centering on a young girl and her parents. (Side note — “Us” is rife with symbolism, along with subtle nods to horror movie classics. You can’t help but think of the movie “The Lost Boys” while enjoying this opening scene on the boardwalk.) While her father is busy playing a game of Whack-O-Mole, the little girl wanders off the boardwalk and onto the beach, where she finds herself meandering into a funhouse. When she enters the room of mirrors, she begins whistling the tune “Itsy Bitsy Spider” to temper her fear; to her surprise, she quickly hears another person whistling the tune back to her. The opening sequence ends with the little girl backing into a corner of the mirrored room only to bump into her doppelgänger.
The movie picks up in the present day with a family of four — Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), her husband Gabe (Winston Duke), and their kids Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex) — driving to their summer home. When they arrive at the house, Gabe is interested in taking his family to the boardwalk for a fun day at the beach. Adelaide quickly objects to the idea, her childhood trauma still with her. After a debate and some husbandly charm, Adelaide agrees to go.
After a few strange coincidences on the beach and a panic attack when Adelaide notices Jason wandering off in the direction of the now-renamed funhouse, the family returns back to their home for the evening. Shortly after arriving, Jason sees a family oddly standing at the top of their driveway. (This haunting scene is perfectly captured by the film’s cinematographer, Mike Gioulakis, best known for his work in the horror classic “It Follows”.) Gabe bravely goes outside to confront the odd scene, only to be quickly overtaken and held captive along with the rest of his family.
If you’ve watched any of the previews for “Us,” you already know that this family is, in fact, doppelgängers of Adelaide’s family. But there is a twist. While you may expect the movie to unfold with a simple plot of the “evil family” brutally killing and taking over the lives of the “good family,” Peele’s brilliant framework of this twisted plot goes in a direction you’d never expect.
The question the audience is posed with is:why? Why are there doppelgängers? Why do they howl and talk with raspy voices? Why are they all wearing red jumpsuits? The beauty of Peele’s work as a director is that these answers slowly unfold throughout the film rather than be forced down our throats right at the end of the movie.
Here’s a small list of metaphors and symbols throughout the film to keep an eye out for!
- White Rabbits – “Alice in Wonderland”?
- The funhouse changes names from “Shaman Vision Quest” (which featured a Native American in full headdress on its sign) to “Merlin’s Enchanted Forest” — some wonder if this somehow ties into “The Shining” and the Native American references throughout the film?
- There are twin girls in “The Shining,” and there are twin girls in “Us.”
- The Bible verse Jeremiah 11:11 shows up twice during significant parts of the movie: “Therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them.”