In his dark mirror, there is nothing more frightening than “Us”
Jordan Peele’s long-awaited film “Us” is finally here, and while it may engender polarized audience responses, it solidifies Peele as a masterful writer-director with his own distinctive voice. “Us” begins in 1986 with a young Adelaide watching TV. We know it’s 1986 because an ad for Hands Across America is playing on TV asking everyone to take part on May 25 1986. We then follow Adelaide and her family to a boardwalk in Santa Cruz, at night. After her father wins her a Thriller t-shirt for her birthday, Adelaide wanders away from her family, drawn to the hall of mirrors attraction. Once inside, she makes a terrifying discovery — her doppelganger.
A home invasion by the family’s shadow selves
Flash-forward to present day, Adelaide is now grown up and traveling with her own family to their vacation home. Lupita Nyong’o gives an extraordinary performance as the adult Adelaide and her menacing doppelganger. She has anxiety about returning to the spot in Santa Cruz where she encountered her double, but her husband soothes her fears and convinces her to take the family to the beach where they meet friends, the Tylers, and their twin girls. As the day progresses, tension mounts with a series of strange coincidences. That evening, Adelaide and her family are confronted by menacing doppelgangers of their own family, standing hand in hand across the driveway, and a chilling home invasion ensues.
“Us” is filled with images that reinforce plot-points, foreshadow events, and invite the audience to unravel layers of meaning hiding just below the story’s surface. For example, Peele consistently draws the audience’s attention to images of doubles; the Tyler’s twin daughters, a Frisbee that lands exactly over a circle, and Adelaide’s image reflected back at her in a darkened window. In fact, the layers in this movie invite multiple viewings, leaving room for personal interpretation within the essence of the story. Piecing the clues together with the characters, the viewer is engaged in unraveling the mystery.
Denied freedom, shadows become monsters
This film is more about class division than racism. The doppelgangers had been trapped below ground, seemingly forgotten by their creators, and have been denied any real quality of life. Hearing the plight of these “others” creates moments of sympathy, and watching the family fight versions of themselves the line between a clear good and evil sometimes becomes blurred.
The most enduring horror, from Romero’s Zombies to Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, are filled with social commentary, revealing the darker side of humanity. Jordan Peele’s work is clearly of this caliber, and has raised the bar for contemporary horror films. But even if social commentary isn’t your thing, “Us” still works as a terrifying ride through a ghoulish house of mirrors.