Universal Picture’s latest horror film, “Us”, redefines what it means to be human and the strength in overcoming our inner darkness.
“Therefore thus said the Lord, ‘Behold, I will bring evil on them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry to me, I will not listen to them.'” Jeremiah 11:11
Hot off the trail of the 2017 breakout hit Get Out, director/writer Jordan Peele debuts his second horror film this weekend, but can the Academy Award-winning director strike gold twice? Let’s review the plot, the characters, and the vast amount of symbolism found in “Us”.
Disclaimer: This is not an opinion-free review. While this review does not contain spoilers for the overall film, I allude to particular scenes and plot points in my overall evaluation of the film. Continue at your own risk.
Jordan Peele brings a refreshing original screenplay in an era of remakes and movie adaptations. What Peele exceeds more than any horror film writers of the past decade or so is the ability to intertwine comedy and suspense seamlessly. Unlike Blumhouse’s Happy Death Day or Halloween (2018), this film does not have long periods of dead space where the story comes to a screeching halt for a few decent comedic elements. Instead, audiences are placed at a level of excruciatingly high suspense from the moment The Wilson Family meet the copycat family. The humor lies within the family dynamics of a strong father, Gabe Wilson (portrayed by Winston Duke), two terrified children who take any opportunity to scold their children, Jason (portrayed by Evan Alex) and Zora (portrayed by Shahadi Wright Joseph), and a bickering couple.
There are no loose ends. Every object, article of clothing, extra actor, character interaction, and dialogue has a purpose. Even if an item was shown at the very beginning of the movie, it is resolved in the final shots. Dialogue is minimal, which adds weight to every syllable and pause made by an actor. This can either make the audience sigh in relief at Gabe Wilson’s muttering under his breath or make the audience stop breathing as Red (portrayed by Lupita Nyong’o) struggles with every word in an eerie, raspy voice.
Without giving anything away, the ending of the film is a head-scratcher. The last five minutes of “Us” will leave moviegoers walking out of the theater and taking to social media to discuss its implications. In fact, I recommend seeing the movie multiple times to see just how everything shown by the cinematography is utilized. It is at this point that I would like to praise the editing of the film for cementing the cohesive story.
Jordan Peele shows, once again, his talent for creating well-rounded characters with little dialogue. The performances delivered by Winston Duke, Evan Alex, Shahadi Wright Joseph, and Elizabeth Moss as supporting characters is some of the best character work in a film to date. Jordan Peele has previously described the idea behind the movie as “we are our own worst enemies”, and this takes the shape of doubling actor performances. Each actor is tasked with portraying two distinct characters: the Light, and the Shadow. The Shadow, or the Tethered, don’t speak a single word of dialogue with the exception of the occasional grunt. And yet, they are some of the creepiest creatures to have been put on the silver screen in quite some time. Each action is done with purpose and it makes sense to the overall plot. When one version of a character is weak in one aspect, the other is strong and vice versa.
Lupita Nyong’o’s performance as both Adelaide Wilson and Red is phenomenal. There are multiple moments where the two characters interact, and Nyong’o performs so well in both roles that I forget that she is playing both characters. In other words, her performance as the characters interacting is so well done, because it took a level of memory and acting intelligence to react to what she had said as a different character or was going to say. “We are our own worst enemies” and nothing describes the amazing performance displayed by Lupita Nyong’o than that iconic phrase.
Tying back to what I previously had said, Jordan Peele’s “Us” uses everything that is shown to layer the horror film. At the beginning of the film, Jason Wilson (portrayed by Evan Alex) is wearing a Jaws t-shirt. This iconic film was clearly one influence for Peele as the movie develops the Santa Cruz beach as a symbol for Adelaide’s anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. There are even a few scenes that pay homage to the Steven Spielberg masterpiece. Another important item of clothing is Zora’s (portrayed by Shahadi Wright Joseph) black raven pin that she has on her hoodie. The raven is mostly associated with Edgar Allen Poe, a famous English poet known for his dark imagery. When Red and the doppelgängers first meet the Wilson Family, Red tells a story of shadows that is reminiscent of the dark poetry composed by Edgar Allen Poe. The term “The Tethered” also comes from the story, and it is Red’s goal to be untethered.
In Get Out, the film was associated with deers; in “Us”, it’s bunnies. Without going into too much detail (this is a spoiler-free review, after all), the rabbits that are seen in cages at the beginning of the film are found later on to be escaped and released, relating to the doppelgängers and their purpose.
There are many more metaphors and symbols in Jordan Peele’s “Us” but for the sake of this review, I will leave it at that.
All in all, Jordan Peele was able to create a horror film that presented the challenges when living with anxiety and overcoming personal trauma, all while keeping moviegoers at the highest point of discomfort and fear. Peele’s “Us” will be remembered as a staple of the horror genre, reminding future storytellers to not have their stories be defined by the limitations of previous films. I highly recommend this film for horror fanatics and fans of fantastic storytelling.
What are your thoughts on Jordan Peele’s “Us”? Let us know in the comments section! Make sure to check out our other movie reviews, as we will be posting more this week!