I wouldn’t say I’m a huge fan of horror films, but Us is so different to your usual jump-scare-and-predictable-plot horror films. Written and directed by Jordan Peele, who is known initially for his comedy sketches, I knew it was a film I had to see – especially since I watched his first film Get Out last year and absolutely loved it.
Jordan Peele’s film writing is clever, intricate and draws upon the mundane aspects of life to produce something of psychological horror. Us was no exception. It follows the journey of a family who are on holiday, suddenly finding four figures in red standing outside their house late at night. It is only when they get closer, they realise they are exact replicas of themselves.
Peele explains in various interviews that the film was inspired by his own anxieties surrounding doppelgangers. He chooses striking colours and objects to take this everyday phenomenon into an unsettling piece of horrific action. Red outfits. Scissors as weapons. White rabbits. There are always symbolic objects and phrases in Peele’s films which he places intricately and intentionally throughout, only to reveal the greater meaning later on. For that reason, his films are brilliant for analysis. With so many interpretations up for grabs, I always love to sit back and have a think about what I got out of it. And I thought I’d share a little of that with all of you here!
The main question many of us have at the end of a film as complex as Us is: What does the ending mean? I had no idea where the film would end up, despite my many guesses, but I certainly didn’t expect it to end up where it did. And that was definitely a good thing!
The overall concept of the film reveals the dichotomy between the living world and the Tethered, who live in underground corridors – two sides of a world that act in accordance with one another, yet only one half are aware of its strength. It is only by the end that we see the underground Tethered as puppets of the people above, falling into step behind them and copying what they do but with no understanding of why they’re doing it and therefore no meaning. An experiment gone wrong, still malfunctioning as time moves on.
One of my favourite scenes was near the end – the attack between Adelaide and her doppelganger “puppet”. It cleverly flicks between the past and the present – the influential dance routine and the present rage. It is like ballet reimagined. Whilst the weapon of the scissors throughout the film clearly represents a sense of duality (two parts making a whole, but that can’t be separated), I also noticed that the ballet move, as the legs snap together, also aligns with the motion of scissors in this scene. It is as if the characters themselves have inhabited the brutality of the scissors. The dance is no longer a dance but an unsettling attack waiting to happen.
Us wasn’t made just to scare, and I think that’s what makes a good horror film. Its interesting interactions between the living and the Tethered aren’t far off many societal differences in our current world; the notion of “them” and “us” can easily be read as subtle commentary on societal inequalities and “The Other” – the idea that we “fight” those we don’t understand.
I read an interesting article online that made a very good point: if “them” and “us” can do the same (since Adelaide and her underground shadow puppet make the same moves), what makes them any different? The only difference is that one has the autonomy to live it out. But why shouldn’t they both?
Us is an unsettling, thought-provoking, original creation and I think it deserves a lot more praise than it’s received. I can’t end this without making a small comment on the plot twist at the end: I can’t believe I didn’t figure it out sooner! Very cleverly executed, and I can’t wait to go back and watch it again, with added hindsight ready to pick up on even finer details.
Have you seen the film Us?
Or Jordan Peele’s former film Get Out?
Let me know in the comments below – always up for a film discussion!