“Us” directed by Jordan Peele has recently arrived in theater. The director of “Get Out’’ and member of the comedy duo “Key and Peele” has delivered a master piece of a horror film.
“Us” begins in a setting used by many horror movies: a carnival. It’s 1986 Santa Cruz and Adelaide is separated from her family. She wanders along a lonely beach in the summer darkness, entering a hall of mirrors where she finds a doppelganger of herself. In the present-day Adelaide (now played by the talented Lupita Nyong’o’) still hasn’t gotten over the psychological trauma of seeing her doppelganger. She returns to Santa Cruz along with her well-off family. At first everything seems okay, Adelaide’s family, the Wilsons, spend time with another upper middle-class family, the Tylers. But when the Wilsons return to their vacation home, they are greeted by a family that includes Adelaide’s look-alike, along with doppelgangers of her children and her husband. Chaos ensues as the Wilson’s look alikes attempt to kill them. However, the situation only escalates there, plunging the Tylers, the Wilsons and all of America into a maelstrom of death and destruction.
“Us” is a visually stunning film, the cinematic equivalent of a beautiful painting. In the movie’s first scene the camera is at a tilted angle to show the world seen through Adelaide’s vison, reflecting the fear and mystery of the world seen through the eyes of a child. In the beginning credits we see a shot of an empty room containing a shelf of many caged rabbits, possibly serving as allusion to “Alice in Wonderland.” “Us.” takes place in California and the natural beauty of the state’s coasts and forests serves as a backdrop for the movie’s scenes of violence and suspense. The soundtrack fits the film well. The theme song “Anthem” is sung hauntingly by a choir and includes the use of drums. Hit songs such as “Fuck tha Police” and “Good vibrations” are also featured in the soundtrack.
‘’Us” had a superb cast. Nyong’o did a wonderful job of playing the complex character of Adelaide, acting with a quiet yet serious demeanor and a amazing emotional range. Winston Duke played Adelaide’s husband, Gabe. Gabe through much of the film was the Wilson family’s protector, a role later usurped by Adelaide. In the scene when the Wilsons are confronted by their doppelgangers, Winston Duke acted with a mix of gruffness and fear appropriate to his character. At other points in the film Gabe served as a comic relief to the film’s serious tone, a role that Duke also played well. Another stellar member of the cast was Elisabeth Moss who also stars in the Hulu drama “The Handmaid’s Tale.” In “Us” Moss played Kitty Tyler, the alcoholic mother of the Tyler family, a role which Moss performed astutely.
“Us” has many themes, but mainly concentrates on the duality of the American dream. The Wilsons are a wealthy and generally well-meaning family, but their doppelgangers, while looking exactly like them, are less-well off and less well-meaning. Peele is presenting a nature vs. nurture type debate presenting the uncomfortable notion that our personalities and behaviors are influenced not by our genes but rather by the environment in which we grow. This theme is alluded to throughout the film. In the moment when the Tylers are fighting their own respective look-alikes, the song “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys plays on an Alexa type device known as “Ophelia.” When Kitty Tyler attempts to call the police, “Ophelia” plays “Fuck the police” by NWA instead. According to the YouTube channel Wisecrack, this sudden switch in soundtrack is meant to juxtapose two sides of California, the feel good vibes of the Beach Boys in Hawthorne and the rage of the NWA against police brutality in Los Angeles.
Many movies are entertaining, and many movies have deep themes, but for a movie to be a work of art it must be both. “Us” was both. It was an entertaining horror film with superb acting from Nyong’o, Moss and Duke, an intriguing plot and an amazing soundtrack. But “Us” also had deep themes as well. Peele presents an America not in which the intelligent can become well-off by their own wits, but where the lower classes must violently overthrow their economic betters to survive.