What if the monster is us?
(MA15+) Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II
If you walk into the cinema to watch Us and expect to see another version Jordan Peele’s hit Get Out, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Why? Even with Peele’s now signature twists, Us doesn’t end in a neatly tied bow.
Eyes glassed over as the final credits roll, when the lights snap on, you’ll be on your phone trolling through Reddit pages to try and figure out exactly what Peele was trying to say.
Unlike Get Out, the social commentary of Us isn’t immediately clear. This uncertainty leaves the audience a sense of unease by the end of the film which will have many walking away with mixed feelings. But that is the beauty of a Jordan Peele film its unexpected and original—always.
Us follows Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) and her family who have returned to their beach house, when one night they are confronted by their doppelgangers. For Adelaide its reliving a terrifying incident as a child when she first saw her doppelganger (called Red). Needless to say it’s not a joyous reunion. As the insidious motives of the doppelgangers (or Tethers as they are referred to in the film) becomes clear, so does the body horror and gore.
The film asks, what if you are tethered to your own worst enemy? What would you do when you look at the monster and it’s your reflection that looks back?
Us is an exploration of duality. With the doppelgangers/tethers, it’s the good and evil within us. There’s twins and there’s rabbits—so many rabbits. Peele has a fear of rabbits because as he says they look cute on paper but “they have eyes of a sociopath.” Then there is the bible verse that pops up throughout the film Jeremiah 11:11, which states:
“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.”
This verse is from Book of Jeremiah in the Old Testament and tells of the wrath of God on Jews worshipping pagan idols in Babylon.
In Us, Red believes she is being tested by God, to bring the message wrath and justice and to lead the Tethers out of their exile, which loosely follows the narrative of Jeremiah.
The duality doesn’t stop there. There is a strong case for the theme of nature vs nurture in the film and that of privilege. How we can burrow out of the ‘ghetto’ to finally live comfortably and yet we can also, so easily forget those we’ve left behind and who are still suffering.
The film also comments on how when we are born into circumstances of disadvantage and pain with no clear route out, we revert to acting out in violence and anger. Then there is the caveat of adorning superficial riches and how we buy into keeping up with those who we perceive have more than us—all in a bid to attain a higher level of materialistic comfort. The phrase “Check your privilege” never rang so loud.
Lupita’s performance carried the film, particularly her eerie portrayal of Red. Her onscreen family played by Winston Duke (Black Panther), Shahadi Wright Joseph (School of Rock) and Evan Alex did well to match her believability and take each of their doppelganger personas to the next level.
Another standout was Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale). While her time on screen is brief, her expressions and acting prowess is just as memorable.
The music score strums the vein of intensity and apprehension throughout the film. This is only the second film where Michael Abels has produced the music score (his first was Get Out) and he has again pulled a stellar performance by elevating the cinematography and film direction of Peele.
Interpreting Us is a challenge that may be too much for audiences, but that it is often the case with films that are unexpected, fresh and sharp edged. Bear with us Jordan Peele: we’re only just catching up to your creative vision.
Us is in cinemas now.