A terrifying critique of contemporary society, the uncanniness of Us will have you fighting between hiding in fear and staring in disbelief.
Director Jordan Peele held up a magnifying glass to the corruption of middle-class America in his psychological thriller Get Out back in 2017. He successfully uncovered the issues of racism still finding prevalence in the USA that many have tried so desperately to sweep under the rug. Peele’s highly established reputation made the anticipation for his second film all the more stimulating, with many hoping it would have the same disconcerting and thought-provoking effect on its audiences. Us does not disappoint, demonstrating how Peele has only just begun deconstructing the issues of contemporary society. With a particular consideration of class difference in this recent picture, the true terror of this horror film lies in its mirror maze of self-reflexivity.
In order to escape the pressures of everyday life, the Wilson family take a trip to their beach house for a carefree vacation in Santa Cruz. From the opening of the film we learn that our lead protagonist Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) had a traumatic encounter as a young girl at this very beach and has not been the same ever since. At first it seems Adelaide has suffered from deep post-traumatic stress and that her reservations about returning to this “family friendly” destination are particularly irrational. However, it becomes apparent that Adelaide has good reason for these anxieties when an eerie family of doppelgängers – otherwise known as The Tethered – appear hand in hand at their door with the intentions to kill and conquer. The film’s foreboding atmosphere begins from the opening shot, but from this point on, audiences should be prepared for a chaos that will have your mind racing as well as your heart.
“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” reads a bible passage under the name of Jeremiah 11:11 that finds significance in the true meaning of this film. Although Us can be (and should be) praised on a purely superficial level of jump scares, aesthetics and general evocation of the heebie-jeebies, all of which certainly facilitate in making this horror so memorable. The more impressive aspect of this film is its varying metaphors and its begging of the question: “what does Us really mean?” The answer to this lies in the fact that Us is the type of film you watch over and over again and notice new things each time. Fundamentally, it is an undeniable critique on society’s morality, particularly in regards to the class system with the The Tethered acting as a metaphor for the underclasses. Peele’s story is an unapologetic depiction of the world we live in; yes, we do not have doppelgängers in red overalls plotting to kill us with scissors, but we are a society of elitism where many are forgotten and destined to live in the shadows.
Nyong’o delivers an astounding performance as both Adelaide and her double as she plays the part of a mother under threat with relentless desperation; meanwhile, her disturbing depiction of her double is reminiscent of a sleep paralysis hallucination come to life. An equally strong cast consisting of Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Elisabeth Moss has us questioning whether to laugh or cry as many humorous moments are delivered in scenes of pure nightmare. Peele’s scriptwriting makes Us stand out amongst the dreary, life-denying horror films so prevalent in mainstream cinema. Its witty one-liners at once make us fall in love with the Wilson family, and on a more ominous level have us identifying with these characters as if this were reality. This is an aspect of Peele’s films that make them so utterly terrifying, as these stories can be seen as far-fetched at first glance but can easily be applied to real life due to their themes being so reflective of modern civilisation which is perhaps why an exploration of the doppelgänger seems so fitting.
Peele’s latest film is a must-see. An uncanny, bewildering and shocking display of humanity which utilises the beloved horror tropes of the psychological thriller and the slasher. A good horror film will have you jumping at the sight of your own shadow, Us undoubtedly gives you reason to jump.
Us, directed by Jordan Peele, is distributed in the UK by Universal Pictures International, certificate 15.