Jordan Peele’s newest horror thriller is laden with probing questions and sneakily avoids answering them.
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This, here, is a clever little film. It is a horror movie in which lots of people are killed by mysterious doppelgängers, however, the violence only acts as window dressing. Like its opening text suggests, there is a lot more happening beneath the surface. Buried secrets, hidden meanings, allegories galore. You wouldn’t think that possible for a film with so many scares and murders, but Jordan Peele‘s Us is a thriller that doubles as a parable. It’s a machine of fear with something to say.
At the movie’s centre is Lupita Nyong’o. She plays Adelaide Wilson, who, as a child, stumbles into a spooky Hall of Mirrors on Santa Cruz beach in 1986 and discovers something impossible. There, in the darkness, peering into her soul with eyes as large as golf balls, is an exact copy of her. Not a reflection, but a living, breathing duplicate.
We re-join Adelaide as an adult, as she and her husband Gabe (Winston Duke), daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and son Jason (Evan Alex), head into the Californian woods to live out their summer at their cushy vacation home. After the lights go out one night, a rip-roaring series of incidents follow that herald the emergence of all these doppelgängers, who communicate in squeals, wear uniformed red jumpsuits and wield identical golden scissors.
This is a thoroughly violent movie. The strange doppelgängers lurch about, stabbing and slashing at their counterparts like a horde of weaponised zombies. Bodies are flung from balconies, chopped by propellers, run over by cars. But the doubles seem to have a plan. They’re not exactly mindless. It might have something to do with Hands Across America, that tacky humanitarian stunt from the ’80s that urged Americans to hold hands and literally form a human chain from one coast to the other.
Peele, who writes and directs, fills his story with tons of symbolic markers, many of which I suspect are red herrings, as if goading his viewers to rack their brains trying to solve his Rubik’s Cube of metaphors. With Us, he seems to be tackling something much broader: the unity of all Americans, regardless of race, gender, class, etc. He’s concerned with their differences and what they’re prepared to do to suppress them. Whether he succeeds is open to debate.
The movie raises serious questions and showcases tireless performances, especially by Nyong’o, who, as both Adelaide and her double, is able to switch between combatant and merciless killer with ease. She is the lifeblood of a suspense thriller that’s smarter than most, more gruesome than some, and certainly more ambitious than any other movie that features cartwheeling killer twins. In ten years, after some profound analysis, Us could turn into a sleeper masterpiece.
Us is available in Australian cinemas from March 28
Image © Universal Pictures 2019