Note: This review contains spoilers for the film “Us."
After “Get Out” garnered widespread acclaim for its intensity and comments on race in America, Jordan Peele’s second effort as a director was highly anticipated. Despite “Get Out” being Peele’s first-ever film, it showcased the director’s ability to properly build trust, suspense and emotion through cinematic elements while still conveying a strong message about America without it taking over the film.
“Us” takes Peele’s knack for social commentary within horrific storylines to an entirely new level. While the social commentary in “Get Out” was almost expected due to its plot about a white family abducting and controlling the brains of black men, the true power of “Us” and its statement about America’s classism predicament is not felt until its conclusion.
The film focuses on Adelaide Wilson and her family as they go on a vacation to Santa Cruz and are attacked by a group of doppelgangers that are inhuman and brutal. The duplicates, calling themselves the “Tethered,” claim they are parallel versions of the family and are here to kill them. As the family tries to fight off the Tethered, it becomes clear that there are Tethered versions of every person in America, and that these duplicates are killing people in a mass coordinated attack.
The movie is filled to the brim with gorgeous shots such as young Adelaide’s reflection in the TV during the introduction showing her twin, as well as the eerie underground tunnel that houses the Tethered. Lupita Nyong’o’s performance as Adelaide (and her twin, remember) is simply incredible. The film uses dark, crisp shots to establish an unsettling vibe and contrasts the dark images by placing dangerous scenes in well-lit areas such as the beach. The score in “Us” is also incredible, with the main theme taking a sample from an old-school rap song and turning it into a terrifying anthem. That score kicks in just as the film moves into second gear, and Peele knows exactly the impact it has on the viewer after using the theme in the trailers for the film.
However, the film’s dark visuals and fantastic acting both contribute to the American commentary Peele is trying to offer.
As the battle with these doppelgangers ensues, Peele’s intentions become clear. This is what makes “Us” so genuinely terrifying-- its chaos reflects the current disarray and classism of America. We are our own worst enemy because we are so starkly separated by our class in America’s economy. Adelaide and her family are settled but still working in their current place as a middle/upper-middle class family, and are attacked by the Tethered, who come from a life where they have nothing.
Those with nothing will do anything to rise to the next economic echelon. The fierce and ruthless Tethered display that.
The final cue to the underlying comments on classism is the rich white family helmed by Josh and Kitty, a slightly dysfunctional couple who hold their wealth over the Wilsons’ head, irritating Gabe (Adelaide’s husband) in particular.
Josh and Kitty’s family is killed almost immediately by their Tethered counterparts, and for one simple reason: they’re too comfortable. Money is the thing they value most, more than their own family dynamic, which is shown by their incessant bickering. They are not prepared for any sort of assault on their prized wealth, and thus fall quickly when it comes.
But why does Adelaide fight the attack of the Tethered with such ferocity and experience compared to her family members?
The film addresses this question with its conclusion, and the answer is succinct yet still stunning. The visuals clue us in to this twist on poverty in America: the real spider next to a much larger fake, Adelaide’s shirt starting off white yet slowly becoming red to mirror those of the Tethered, and the significance of the time 11:11 repeated in the film, which is a perfect mirror image.
Adelaide’s survival instinct is a comment on all of America; we have been consumed by our wealth and separated by it. “Us” uses stark visuals, superb acting and a riveting original score to captivate and entertain the audience, but also to send an important message. Jordan Peele once again composes a film that is terrifying in more ways than one, reminding us that we are all members of a nation distinctly divided.
Micah Johnston ‘22 is a journalism and media studies double major who has written for The Cluster since his freshman year at Mercer. He has written on and reported for Georgia Public Broadcasting, The Macon Telegraph and The Macon Newsroom on a variety of topics. He received the Center for Collaborative Journalism’s Junior Honors Award for the 2020-2021 academic year. Micah’s other interests include obsessively following Braves and Mariners baseball, constantly listening to all kinds of music and probably eating junk food.