‘Us’ is a horrifying tale that demands self-reflection

Jordan Peele’s second feature demands more from his audience


(Maxwell Zaleski/ Daily Collegian)

By Lauren LaMagna, Assistant Arts Editor

The old saying goes, “you are your own worst enemy.” It’s a common figure of speech we hear when we are stressed over a big exam or overthinking a problem. We try to get in the way of ourselves but in hindsight we often realize, yes, we are our own worst enemy. But Jordan Peele’s sophomore film “Us” takes that concept to a whole new level.

Jordan Peele’s second feature, his first being Oscar winner “Get Out,” tells the story of Adelaide Wilson (Luptia Nyong’o) and her family. On the surface, the Wilsons are a happy and strong family. There’s Adelaide and her loving husband, Gabe (Winston Duke) and kids Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex). But Adelaide is haunted by a traumatic moment in her childhood that she is unable to recover from. This trauma only intensifies when her family arrives to their summer house in Santa Cruz, the same location of the event. She doesn’t interact well with others and would rather stay in the house then go to the public beach. She is paranoid and constantly thinks that someone is out to get her, and that fear is only proven true when a mysterious group of people in red jumpsuits that look exactly like her and her family arrive in the driveway.

It is impressive to think that this is only Jordan Peele’s second film he’s written and directed, as he shows true ease in the writer/director role. Peele knows exactly what he’s doing behind the camera and crafts a story that will haunt you but also make you think. He carefully blends his mind and imagination with the horror genre to create a completely different film. The film is meant to scare you, but it is also meant to serve as a catalyst for self-reflection, which is Peele’s objective: to frighten and to question his audience. This is precisely what the Wilson family does when they are visited by their frightening doppelgangers.

In the end, the film works because of Peele’s strong cast, particularly the Wilson family led by Nyong’o. All four actors play their characters as well as their doppelgangers, meaning they are acting against no one. Yet, they can portray both terrified and terrifying characters with ease. As the Wilson family tries to figure out who these doppelgangers are, the characters pull the audience into the mystery. Through the Wilsons’ journey, the audience is not only able to reflect on the characters but also reflect on themselves, which again is Peele’s objective. All members of the family shine in the film but it is Nyong’o who steals the show. She is a true leading lady and provides one of the best performances in the horror genre. Throughout the entire film, Nyong’o is captivating in every scene she is in. She plays a mother who is fighting an internal battle in order to save herself and her family.

Even though “Us” is a product of Jordan Peele, it is nothing his debut. Both films are gender-bending horror, but his two films are completely different in style and tone. Unlike his first film, Peele relies more on symbolism and visual metaphors while including aspects that are known to be in any horror film. As opposed to “Get Out,” “Us” is much more based on the audience’s reaction than it is based in the linear story. The film is meant to be open for interpretation instead of having clear answers or a direct message to be received. This can result in vague conclusions and loose plot ends which could potentially leave an audience member unsatisfied and searching for something more. But that is the risk in making a film that relies so much on what the audience member brings into the cinema. “Us” is an interactive film and one’s identity and life experience will sway their opinion and impression of the story. Everyone will have a different interpretation of the meaning of the film and the audience is likely to have different opinions on what Peele is actually saying about the human species.

There’s a lot to unpack in this film and it will probably require a second or even a third viewing to fully wrap one’s head around it. But “Us” will scare you and force you to think. It features a fantastic cast that is led by one of the most intelligent and twisted men working in Hollywood today. But “Us” is about a lot of things. It’s about a family, a woman, Americans, the fight for freedom, the minority overtaking the majority, breaking free, reflection and much more. It could also be about the realization that blaming ‘them’ for the problems of the world is wrong because maybe it’s not ‘their’ fault. ‘They’re’ just reacting and maybe, it’s your fault. Maybe it’s my fault. Maybe it our fault and we are just refusing to look in the mirror because, as the saying goes, “we are our own worst enemy.”

Lauren LaMagna can be reached at [email protected]