Creepy, disturbing and deliciously, irresistibly open to multiple interpretations, Jordan Peele’s follow up to “Get Out” brings us another mischievously deep dive into the shameful psyche of America with a psychological sci-fi thriller of identity politics through the looking glass.
As a young child, Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) wandered away from her parents on the Santa Cruz boardwalk and had a creepy encounter with another little girl in a spooky hall of mirrors. Many years later, she, her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and their two children return to Santa Cruz on holiday but their plans for a peaceful getaway are shattered when they encounter a family of doppelgängers who have sinister plans of their own.
As before with “Get Out”, Peele takes a simple idea and embellishes it vivid and unnerving details, building layer upon layer of tension and dread and then lets his cast loose in the nightmare world he’s created. The entire cast are terrific, especially given they are all pulling double duty but it’s Nyong’o in particular who really excels, delivering a performance that’s as deserving of, and just as likely to be overlooked for, recognition as Toni Collette’s turn in “Hereditary”.
While the fundamental logistics of ‘The Tethered’ (as the doppelgängers dub themselves) don’t really make sense – with every revelation and explanation, more and more questions start to corrode the premise, it’s the strength and richness of the movie’s thematic payload that’ll keep you pondering long after any nit-picking and plot holes have faded from memory.
There are so many ways to read the film that you could get a dozen dissertations from this one movie and still find another way to look at it. Is it a critique of the toxic effects of identity politics? A parable of the dangers of self-loathing? An implicit condemnation of the “Star Wars” prequels, darkly satirising the Lucasian poetry of visual, linguistic and narrative rhyme? A potent reminder for parents to keep an eye on their damn kids? Is it a metaphor for a complacent and lazy America, smugly secure in its own progress, waking to find their country transformed overnight as their basest instincts rose up and took over – as powerful and on-the-nose allegory for the 2016 Presidential Election as you could wish for.
In keeping with its reflective leitmotif, “Us” offers us a dark mirror of ourselves, our prejudices and opinions, a distorted echo chamber which absorbs our world view and offers it back with a twist, often of a knife, or in this case pair of scissors. Everyone is the hero of their own story, and the Thethered’s over-arching goal of recreating a halcyon Reagan-era statement shows that even the most deplorable may believe they have good intentions.
If “Get Out” offered a peek behind the curtain of America’s civil hypocrisy, “Us” – which could easily be pronounced U.S. – brings the country’s Jekyll and Hyde psyche kicking and screaming into the light of day. Peele is charting the real American horror story and I cannot wait for whatever he has in store to round out this trilogy.