In many ways, Jordan Peele’s Us is a much more divisive film than Get Out. Not only has it failed to reach the same critical and audience consensus as its predecessor; it has created a much deeper separation between its characters and in the world it portrays. There isn’t just a sunken place anymore, rather a web of underlining themes and sociological critiques which hardly reach every viewer in the same way, and that often struggle to truly come to life and be grasped like they deserve to.
With a wonderful soundtrack and haunting imagery, the first few scenes of the film are as promising as they can be. Young Adelaide Thomas (Madison Curry) creaks down the fairground boardwalk in Santa Cruz. She sneaks away from her parents and ventures into a funhouse where she meets her doppelgänger. The film lingers if only for a moment before cutting forward to present day and introduces an adult Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o), who is heading, with her family – husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and children Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex) – to their holiday house in Santa Cruz. The bliss of the getaway lasts a few hours, and a series of uncanny incidents takes us right into the action, when a group of intruders – the Wilson’s doppelgängers – appears outside the house.
In the very long sequence of action scenes where the Wilson family members fight for their life, Peele makes use of many tropes that horror devotees and even horror despisers like myself are extremely familiar with. There’s a clear ‘oh no, don’t get out of the car now ‘ moment, many jump scares and plenty of blood to satisfy the audience’s need for gore – but the film doesn’t stop there. In pure Get Out style, there’s a realisation that lurks throughout the film and hits viewers during its climax: the meaning of Us is much deeper than your standard horror film kill-and-run. As the title infers, it’s not so much a matter of ‘us’ versus ‘them’, but simply just ‘us’. Us, in all our manifestations. The Wilson family isn’t the only Wilson family – we are the Wilson family too. The invaders aren’t the only invaders – we can be the invaders too.
All the characters in the film, both in their individuality and as a collective, represent the status of human society. This is where the divide comes into play. Peele wants to tell us that we might all belong to the same species, but we aren’t and will never be born the same. Some of us do go and succeed at what we set ourselves to, but there will always be others standing just below, barely able to imitate our ways of life, but never enough to reach us.
It’s a powerful and evocative critique of the world we live in, fully encompassed in a scene where Adelaide asks her doppelgänger who her and her ‘family’ are, to which the latter responds, “We’re Americans.” There’s a hilarity and a profound discomfort in those two words, something perhaps only Jordan Peele would be able to convey so perfectly.
Us remains far from a perfect film. While the plot is pretty engaging throughout, at times it appears redundant, as there’s only so far the Wilsons can run. There’s also a chilling twist at the end which – even if genius – angers, because it loses all potential to the often poor timing of the film. Nevertheless, it still deserves to be seen. The cast are truly fantastic, with a spectacular performance by Nyong’o and supporting actors (Elisabeth Moss, Josh Tyler) who still get their chance to shine. The soundtrack, crafted by Michael Abels, is remarkable too: it blends original instrumental thrills, tunes such as Janelle Monáe’s “I Like That” and a twisted remix of “I Got 5 On It” by Luniz, carrying the film almost too perfectly.
And even if Peele struggles with letting his audience fully grasp whatever it is that he sees in us, he leaves plenty of room for us to dive into his vision and find it out ourselves.
By Linda Mohamed