(Guest post) When interviewed on the BBC, director Jordan Peele was at pains to point out that while his new movie Us has a black family at the center of the action, it was not about race. It was, he said, refreshing to see black actors in a horror movie, without needing to make anything more of the fact. That stands in stark contrast to Peele’s previous film, Get Out, which had a strong racial message driving the whole plot, as rich, white, American senior citizens brain swap into the bodies of younger, fitter black men and women.
Jordan Peele is on familiar territory here once again, subverting a well-known horror story trope as the basis for his new film. It is clear that Frankenstein inspired Get Out, which has spawned everything from films to Frankenstein slot machines. This time around, however, the Jekyll and Hyde idea that there is a dark side to all of us inspires Us, as Lupita Nyong’o and her family face the ultimate adversaries, themselves, or at least a version of themselves focused on the darker side of their nature.
The family in question are the Wilsons, your average middle-class American family, featuring Nyong’o and her Black Panther co-star Winston Duke as the parents, and two terrific performances by Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex as their kids. As summer rolls around, they head for their holiday home on the coast to meet up with friends Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker.
So far, so good, except that this is no ordinary location, at least not for Nyong’o, who suffered a traumatic experience at the nearby Santa Cruz Boardwalk as a child. Returning to the neighborhood as an adult puts her on edge, and her instincts soon prove right when a family of doppelgangers appear in their driveway and begins to terrorize the family in real home-invasion movie style. What follows drifts a little into a run-of-the-mill, zombie-slasher territory for the middle act but quickly redeems itself in the final reel as Peele’s plot twists start to flow thick and fast.
When the final twist arrives, right at the end, your first instinct is to go straight to the box office to buy another ticket to watch it again. Like with The Sixth Sense, you’re convinced that either you have missed something, or they have cheated somewhere along the line to stop you working it out. As someone who has seen Us three times now, I can assure you that there’s no cheating involved here and that while there are clues along the way, they handle them so carefully that you can forgive yourself for missing them.
Nonetheless, it is still worth seeing Us more than once, if only to completely grasp how clever and carefully planned this film is. From the endless smart repetitions of 11:11 it the most unexpected places to the echoes and shadows present in almost every element of the film, you will see something new each time. Even the selection of the music is clever, with tracks like Luniz’s “I Got 5 On It,” referencing the overarching concept of two halves making a whole.
The internet is awash with fan theories about what Us is about, with some speculating that it’s a reflection on the human condition and the darker side we all carry, but most of us successfully suppress. Other theories claim that it is a satire on modern-day America, with the upper classes succeeding on the backs of an unseen underclass. Of course, former Big
Mouth star Jordan Peele is not about to draw on any of these, leaving it up to the viewer to make up their mind.
At the end of the day, you can enjoy Us on whatever level you choose, from straight-forward date-night horror thriller to smart social satire. But remember to keep your eyes open for all the clever touches running throughout the film. With so many modern films falling apart all too quickly the more you think about them, Us is one of those rare films that gets better and better with every viewing and every new detail you see in Peele’s intricate plans.