The monsters in Jordan Peele’s latest horror movie “Us” are American. Yes, you read it correctly. Born and raised too.
Breaking the box office with an over $70 million debut, “Us” captures the collective tension and fear spreading across the country today, but with a more reflective lens. The monsters in “Us” defy the idea of us versus them, because here, there is no them; it’s just U.S.
After his 2017 success with “Get Out”, Peele’s newest anticipated movie has audiences expecting a story just as avant-garde and thought-provoking. Although the movie stars a black American family, the film is not defined by racial issues, but rather the broader dynamics of culture that impact everyone. Lupita Nyong’o plays Adelaide Wilson, the heroine of the film. She co-stars with Winston Duke who portrays her husband, Gabe Wilson, along with Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex as their children, Zora and Jason Wilson.
In the movie, a young Adelaide, played by Madison Curry, lets her naïve curiosity lead her to find her doppelganger in a carnival funhouse of mirrors in Santa Cruz, Calif. Tragically, she discovers the world can never be big enough for both to cohabit. The struggle continues when years later, Adelaide returns to Santa Cruz with her husband and children to find every family member now has their own doppelganger. Each person struggles to survive and outwit their other as the characters try to overcome their fears and insecurities.
Peele’s monsters are doppelgangers dressed in red jumpsuits and carrying shiny gold scissors, which are used to viciously wreck havoc on the people they resemble. The movie tells how these monsters come to be of flesh and blood, but were negated of everything their look-alikes enjoyed. Monsters in horror films often represent what we, as a society, fear — but the fear can also illustrate what we most desire.
Peele’s monsters thrive under such ambiguity. They use their demonic grunts and animalistic traits to distinguish themselves from their more civilized counterparts. They embody what westernized societies have described to dehumanize other groups of people in the past. They also demonstrate their wish to be like their other as they imitate their actions, wear their prescription glasses or put on their makeup. These monsters do not just want to kill their look-alikes, they want to take their places.
Like “Get Out”, “Us” needs to be watched several times to fully appreciate the scope of the social commentary Peele offers to his movie-goers. Audience members must come with an investigative lens to fully appreciate the lavish display of symbolism and cultural references Peele uses. A critique of the American Dream, redlining and the concept of body snatching are shown in multiple forms throughout the film. There is no way one could register all those messages in one sitting.
The movie also recognizes horror films that have reflected U.S. fears throughout the generations. From Hitchcock-like scenes, to little Jason wearing a “Jaws” T-shirt at the beach, these references allude to the success of terrorizing entire generations. These fears are crucial to understanding what it means to be an U.S. American in the 21st century. Not to mention the title, “Us”, is a play on the name of the country.
In a way, Peele’s movie is a culmination of where we have been to where we are now. A history of fear portrayed as an attack on American values and way of life continues to find its way in our theaters. But “Us” argues the newest threat is not who or what comes from outside our borders. The monsters have been here for generations. They know how we walk, talk, and think. They… are… us.
Sara can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.