Most people who encounter their doppelganger would probably be more amused than terrified. Jordan Peele takes that idea and flips it in “Us.”
The movie, released in theaters March 22, opens with a title card stating there’s an extensive network of abandoned tunnels across America without a known purpose. It’s vague and has an unnecessary Oxford comma, but it sets the stage for the rest of the film.
Cut to 1986 — a young girl’s haunting encounter with her doppelganger in a hall of mirrors leaves her traumatized well into adulthood. Decades later, the girl, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) is on vacation with her husband, Gabe (Winston Duke) and their two children, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex), at the same beach where she first stumbled into the hall of mirrors.
The Wilsons are a typical American family. Zora is a teenager glued to her phone, Jason is an obnoxious little brother and Gabe is a silly father all too eager to captain “The Crawdaddy” — his new boat and current obsession. Along the way, they meet with their friends, the Tyler family. The families are enjoying a day at the beach until Jason wanders off and is startled by a lone, bloodied man standing in the distance.
The Wilson’s idyllic trip takes a dark turn when four people identical to them show up in their driveway, all clad in red jumpsuits. These doppelgangers have a sinister agenda which goes beyond the one family.
The most impressive aspect of “Us” is the performances, as each actor also plays their character’s clones. Nyong’o’s clear contrast between a sinister being and a protective mother is unsettling and makes the ending all the more shocking.
A good chunk of the movie treats viewers to a cat-and-mouse game of the Wilsons both fleeing from and battling their doppelgangers — essentially, they’re fighting themselves. The climactic feud takes place between Adelaide and her doppelganger in the same place where the two first met — the house of mirrors.
These scenes rely on some classic horror tropes with a home invasion, jump scares and a lack of common sense getting people in trouble. However, Peele’s writing is as comedic as it is terrifying. Tense scenes are broken up with clever quips. In one scene one of the Wilson kids asks, “What’s ‘Home Alone?’” referring to the 1990 movie, making some adult viewers feel really old.
This humor brings viewers’ guard down, setting them up for the next jump scare. The funniest part of the film happens when a woman’s smart speaker fails her, and she dies a slow death to the soundtrack of “Fuck tha Police” by N.W.A.
Jokes aside, audiences slowly learn the doppelganger’s agenda which extends far beyond just the Wilson family.
“Us” is left to many interpretations, and clues don’t lead to a single consensus. The plot deals with multiple themes including identity, trauma and political uprising. Some motifs open up plausible political explanations.
When young Adelaide makes her way to the hall of mirrors, she passes a man holding a sign reading, “Jeremiah 11:11.” The 11:11 motif pops up a few more times in the movie. This refers to a Bible verse which says, “Therefore, this is what the Lord says: I am going to bring calamity upon them, and they will not escape. Though they beg for mercy, I will not listen to their cries.”
Not only does this foreshadow the terrors to come, it references a covenant between God and Israelites in the Bible warning them not to worship false idols.
The other striking detail comes when the Wilson’s meet their doppelgangers. Adelaide’s doppelganger says, “We’re Americans.” This statement could be read as a declaration from people in the country who are overlooked.
“Us” is a strong follow-up to Peele’s directorial debut, “Get Out.” Viewers who aren’t turned off by horror should venture into the theater again — this time to pick up on all the clues and motifs scattered in the film.
“Us,” rated R, is playing in theaters nationwide.