Us, rated R
Us, is the follow-up to Jordan Peele’s surprise 2017 hit Get Out. It is a horror film that has significant content issues, particularly an extreme amount of violence and adult language. The film is written, directed and produced by Oscar winner Peele (Get Out). While the messages in Get Out were obvious, what Peele is wanting to communicate with Us is more of a head scratcher. Some reviewers have pointed to Stanley Kubrick’s film The Shining as an influence, and that viewers will get more out of the film after each repeated viewing, something I don’t plan to invest the time nor money in.
As the film opens, we read a few sentences on the screen about the miles and miles of tunnels underneath the surface of America, many of which have “no known purpose at all.” We are taken back to 1986, where we see an ad on television for the “Hands Across America” event. Young Adelaide, played by Madison Curry, is at a Santa Cruz amusement park along the beach with her parents. Her father has won her a Michael Jackson Thriller t-shirt which is much too big for the little girl. When her mother goes to the restroom, her father is to watch her, but he is consumed with playing a whack-a-mole game, so Adelaide wanders off along the boardwalk toward the beach. Along the way she sees a homeless man holding up a sign reading “Jeremiah 11:11” (“Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them”). That man and verse will show up later in the film. Adelaide wanders into what appears to be an abandoned house of mirrors attraction named Shaman Vision Quest which has a sign on the outside indicating that you will find yourself inside. Adelaide soon wants to leave, but when she heads to the “Exit” sign, she just runs into a mirror. It is then she sees her exact double (a doppelgänger), who is even dressed just like her. She is terrified.
The film then moves to the present day. The Wilson family – Adelaide, played by Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), her husband Gabe, played by Winston Duke (Black Panther), daughter Zora, played by Shahadi Wright Joseph and young son Jason, played by Evan Alex are heading for a vacation at their lake house, Adelaide’s childhood home, located not far from the Santa Cruz beach where the terrifying incident took place. When Gabe suggests that they meet friends Josh Tyler, played by Tim Heidecker, his wife Kitty, played by two-time Golden Globe winner Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale), and their twin daughters at the Santa Cruz beach, Adelaide is visibly upset. On the beach, we see Jason, who Adelaide is especially protective of, wander off and head toward the same house of mirrors attraction (now named Merlin’s Enchanted Forest).
That night back at the lake home, Adelaide tells Gabe about her terrifying childhood experience for the first time. She tells him that she wants to go home. Then the power goes out and everything is dark. They notice that there are four people standing motionless at the end of their driveway. They won’t respond to Gabe, who initially is friendly. Eventually they charge the home and despite Gabe’s efforts, they enter. What the Wilson family sees is stunning – the people on the driveway are their doubles, just like the little girl was that Adelaide saw back in the house of mirrors in 1986. Although they look similar, these doubles have difficulty communicating, some grotesque features, wear red jump suits and even worse, hold large scissors as weapons. Only Adelaide’s double speaks, and then only in a labored manner. It’s clear that this is not a social visit.
Who are these people, who are known as the Tethered, and why do they want to harm the Wilson family?
Content concerns in the film include a significant amount of adult language, much of it during a rap song about the police by N.W.A. God’s and Jesus’ names are both abused several times. There is a significant amount of violence and blood in the film, which turns into a disappointing survival slasher film, after a promising beginning. Themes include caring for others, fear, and deception.
The film includes some humor, especially from Gabe, who comes across as a likeable dorky father. The musical score by Michael Abels (Get Out) is effective in building suspense. Cinematography is by Mike Gioulakis (It Follows).
As you would expect, the Wilson’s doppelgängers are played by the same actors/actresses that play the Wilsons. Of particular note is the outstanding performance of Nyong’o as Adelaide and Red.
After a promising beginning, Us turns into a common slasher survival film with significant content concerns. The film is getting excellent reviews from the critics, and I’m sure Peele had messages he wanted to convey, but they were lost on me. If you see the film and think differently about it, please let me know.