For the first time in this site’s history, I am opening a review by saying there are several huge spoilers in this article. If you have still not seen Us, I would first off recommend you going out and seeing it for yourself as soon as possible. Secondly, I would recommend coming back here and reading this afterwards. With that said, proceed on at your own risk. Seriously.
I’m not going to tease you. I will tell you off the bat I now believe Jordan Peele is a genius. It is mind-boggling to think that this guy was making comedic skits on Comedy Central not too long ago, and now is on the verge of becoming the Alfred Hitchcock of this generation.
When Get Out hit theaters two years ago, it was the first of its kind. It was a horror movie that found a way to be not only riveting, smart, and obviously scary, but also socially conscious unlike any other movie of its kind before it. Having a horror film plot that spoke subliminally as a metaphor for racial injustice and misconception in society was nothing short of brilliant. As a result, Get Out, a horror movie with a February release date earned an Oscar nomination for Best Picture in 2018.
If you read my review of Get Out at the time (and if you haven’t, it’s still on here available to read), you’ll find that I liked the movie a lot. However, when I did my Achievements in Film Awards for 2017, I had it listed as overrated. Why? Because although I really liked the movie, I was uneasy about the fact that it earned an Oscar nomination. I was on board with the Original Screenplay nomination, but not Best Picture.
Now, as we fast-forward to Peele’s second release, Us, I can honestly say as good as Get Out was, Us is even better. For as unsure as I was about Get Out’s praise, I’m 1000% certain Us is a classic and deserves all the positive recognition it gets. Combining the success of both films, Peele may have achieved the greatest beginning to a film-making career ever.
Us is a movie about a well-off African-American family whose family retreat is interrupted by a group of terrorizing doppelgangers. Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) is a wife and mother who in 1986 as a child found herself face-to-face with a young identical girl inside a mirror maze at a beach carnival. The experience shook her deeply and changed her life forever, to the point where her parents were fearful she would never be the same again. Years later, she finds herself in an uneasy situation when her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) wants to take their family back to the same beach where the traumatizing event occurred over 30 years prior.
The Wilson’s vacation house itself was actually in a wooded neighborhood not far from this notorious beach, and one night, they found themselves face-to-face with a conspicuously familiar group of shady trespassers. The trespassers break into their home and attempt to hold the family hostage, when the Wilson’s realize the evildoers are actually evil clones of themselves. This is a great scene in the film, highlighted by Gabe asking the shadow family who they are, to which Adelaide’s clone responds by saying in a chilling voice, “We’re Americans.”
In the trailers and articles for this movie prior to its release, we are led to believe that these doppelgangers are specific to and only terrorize this specific family. In reality, we find out in the film that actually everybody has an evil “tethered” person attached to them. We find this out when the Wilson’s friends and neighbors, the Tylers (played by Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker) are killed along with their daughters (played by Cali and Noelle Sheldon) by their shadowed beings.
During the plot reveal, we find out from Adelaide’s evil shadow that all of the tethered people are coming out from a disturbing underground lab to avenge their discreet, demented lives by killing their above-ground privileged counterparts, the human race.
Even more disturbing is the reveal that Adelaide’s shadow is actually Adelaide, and her shadow was actually herself after she was choked and swapped out to the depths of the underground with the other tethered beings by her doppelganger in the mirror maze in 1986. Deep stuff, right?
Due to the fact that a lot of mind-blowing events happen in this film, I thought it would be helpful to explain some of the nuggets from Us in a hypothetical “Q and A” session with a few questions most people, myself included, may be asking themselves after seeing Us.
What is Jeremiah 11:11 and what does it mean?
I had to look this up. It’s actually a chilling Bible verse that says, “Therefore thus says 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.”
What is the significance in the opening scene of the film?
The initial scene of the TV showing a commercial for the 1986 Hands Across America campaign is one of the last things young Adelaide saw before she was taken to the tethered world, which explains why all the tethered people at the end are holding hands across the nation. She used this campaign as an influence for her takeover plan when she freed the tethered beings.
In addition, it was brought to my attention that the movies on the shelf next to the TV are all movies where the central location of film is underground (The Goonies, C.H.U.D., Nightmare on Elm Street).
Why do the tethered people use scissors as a weapon of choice?
I had to look this one up. This one really shows off Peele’s brilliance. At one point in the film when explaining the tethered world, Adelaide’s twins says that everyone shares a shadow but only has one soul. So with that being said, in the same way a person would have a doppelganger but only one soul, is the same way scissors are referred to as a “pair” despite being one object. Let that one sink in for a second.
Why are the tethered people all wearing gloves and a red jump suit?
At the fair in 1986, young Adelaide is given a Michael Jackson “Thriller” shirt as a carnival prize. In the “Thriller” music video, Jackson wears a red jacket and a glove. As one of her last human influences, Adelaide remembers this and channels it as the influence behind her army’s wardrobe.
Based on the final scene, is Adelaide’s son also a doppelganger himself?
This is really tough. I go back and forth with this one. I think he is a regular human, but figured out that, like him, his mother is different and he is okay with that. I could easily be swayed by a reasonable explanation as to why he actually is a doppelganger, though.
What does Us’ story ultimately mean?
I have multiple theories on this one. After watching the movie, I thought the message of the story was that we all have a dark side and events that have taken place in our country over the last several years have brought our darker “tethered” selves out to the light. Some people feel it’s safer now to be a bigot, sexist, and/or snobby individual because, like Adelaide, a leader has come to power who makes them feel protected to show such true colors. Our demons are no longer in the closet.
However, I have also heard another theory that makes sense and I could stand by as well, which is the fact that the tethered people are a metaphor for the lower class in America who are now rising up and trying to take their slice of American pie at any cost.
These are just a few of the many nuggets from Us, but I thought these were especially important to understand the broader picture. You can agree or disagree with me or the message of the film itself, but that’s the brilliance in Peele and his filmmaking. Just like Get Out, Us triggers conversation. It triggers us to think deeper about what this all means and the direction we are going as a society in America.
Yes, Us is a horror movie, but that’s not all it is. Like the scissors in the movie, it’s an instrument to cut deep into ourselves and figure out what side of history we want to be on at the end of the day.
The synopsis of Us may sound over-the-top, but it’s executed so perfectly that once you fully understand the message (and it may take more than one viewing to do so), you truly recognize its brilliance. I really hope at least most people get this movie. If the message goes over people’s heads, I’m afraid it won’t get the recognition it deserves.
I had to literally nit-pick to talk myself out of giving this movie a perfect 10 score, but it’s really hard not to do it. It’s hard for me to imagine many movies that could be better than Us this year. Likewise, I find it hard to imagine five better acting performances this year than that of Lupita Nyong’o in this movie. Basically playing two parts, she showed her extraordinary range and dynamic skill set in her role as both Adelaide and Red, her tethered doppelganger. As great as this movie is, it wouldn’t have been the same without her vibrant performance.
Us is an amazing piece of film-making that, in my opinion, should once again clinch Jordan Peele a seat at this year’s Oscars. Move over Hitchcock, Craven and King, Peele is here and he is here to stay.
MATTER RATING: 9.5/10
OSCAR SCALE: 8/10 (Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actress, Cinematography, Original Score)
BY: CHRIS GUEST