The dual-review film criticism site: first a spoiler-free review, then an in-depth Alternate Take.

Reviewed by Claire Jesson.

Director Jordan Peele
Length 116
Certificate 15
Rating **********
Filmmaking: 5  Personal enjoyment: 5

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A deep sense of unease permeates Jordan Peele’s thriller, Us, from its opening when we are solemnly, and enigmatically, told that a network of tunnels underlies the United States. In subsequent early scenes, which take place in 1986, an evening excursion takes a family to a Santa Cruz boardwalk: a space of rides, hoopla and whack-a-mole. As the father wins a T-shirt for his young daughter, the family dynamic is revealed as antagonistic as her parents bicker over her head. Heightening the disquiet, the funfair is mediated through a low camera that renders the point of view and sense impressions of the child as she looks up at monumental rollercoasters. Her attention is captured by a series of figures presented as somewhat menacing as she observes them impassively. While her parents are distracted (and her father is preoccupied with his endeavour to whack moles back into their ‘underground’ holes), the girl is irresistibly impelled towards a beachfront hall of mirrors.

Mirrors are the crux of Us. The hall is characterised as a forest. The ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ who responds to its siren call isn’t the iconic heroine of the Brothers Grimm, or Lewis Carroll’s Alice, but a black child wearing a Thriller T-shirt emblematic of a Reagan-era America whose imagination was so captivated by Michael Jackson’s performance as a zombie in an oxblood-red leather jacket. As she moves through ‘trees’ and mirrors, she confronts herself in legion, with her doppelganger replicating her every move. Aside from its riff on the ‘motion picture’ created for Thriller, this sequence evokes The Cabinet of Dr Caligariin which the ‘evil twin’ or the shadow side of the human becomes visible within a framework of psychotic breakdown. This much older film has been interpreted as allegorically anticipating the rise of German fascism in the 1920s and 30s.

We fast-forward thirty years to present-day America and catch up with the little girl we imagine has been traumatised by an unresolved happening we witness in the hall of mirrors (which the present reviewer won’t spoil). The girl has grown up into Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong\"o). Adelaide is the wife and mother of a middle-class family, consisting of a girl and a boy, who holiday near Santa Cruz. However, they soon discover that theirs isn’t the only family drawn to the trauma site where Adelaide must confront the past and reap its whirlwind in the present.

Us is a dystopian thriller. Beyond that, its genius is in its play with mirrors and themes of the double as a means by which it stages the confrontation between multiple Americas: those of the past and the present and those of the haves and have-nots.

This review was published on April 09, 2019.