“Us” – or WTF did I just watch during weekly horror movie night?

Having seen Jordan Peele’s “Get Out”, I was expecting another amazing thriller filled with a good twist, loads of humour and a good scare. What I got instead was an artsy attempt filled with too many rabbits and overlay chorus.

This review contains spoilers so if you want to watch the movie, don’t read on.

The Wilsons’ doppelgängers first appear on their driveway in the same order as the stick family decal on the back of their car.

Peele’s opening is up there with the nightmare classics. After titles that assert there are thousands of miles of tunnels under the U.S., many of which “have no known purpose at all,” we’re in a beach-side Santa Cruz amusement park in 1986, where a little girl wanders away while her father is distracted by a game of Whac-a-Mole. (What better metaphor for macho futility?)

Gothic convention compels the girl to enter a fun house on the beach with a sign reading vision quest: find yourself. In the hall of mirrors, she nervously whistles “Itsy Bitsy Spider” — and then hears someone whistling it back. What appears to be her mirror image is actually … well, that’s the question as she’s staring in a mirror that does not reflect her face but the back of her head. And then the mirror girl turns around and smiles an evil looking smile.

The credit sequence that follows made me think I stumbled into the wrong ass movie: The camera rests on a white rabbit, then slowly pulls back to reveal a cage and then a vast wall of cages, each with its own leporine specimen. The Omen–like Latin chants and polyphonic Afro-rhythms sounds in the background like someone is conjuring the devil. Me and my friend shared confused looks as to what the hell was actually going on. Loads and loads of rabbits in cages.

The first scenes lose the pulse, though, and the film never really recovers. In the present, the reasonably prosperous Wilson family goes to Santa Cruz for a vacation, its arrival broken by flashbacks to ’86 and the aftermath of the little girl’s trip to the fun house, when she’s mute, apparently in shock. The connection is Adelaide Wilson, who was once that little girl and is now a jittery mom played by Lupita Nyong’o. Adelaide is nervous about going back to the beach, which is easy to understand — but then why is she there in the first place? Why doesn’t she tell her husband (who looks pretty chill), the source of her unease, her strong aversion to this place and the ability to go to another beach on the log coast of America. Why not go to Mexico on holiday?

The Wilson kids, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex), are more cerebral, but we don’t get to know them before the so-called “us” arrive.

There are tell-tell signs that something is about to happen. The clock says 11:11 when they hear the first noises from the back-yard. The homeless man’s sign says Jeremiah 11:11 as well. When the Wilson family visits the beach, they are shown in a bird’s eye view shot walking across the sand with long shadows that resemble the numbers ‘1111’. When the Wilson’s are driving the ambulance at the end, the number on the roof of the ambulance is “1111”.

“Therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them.” – Jeremiah 11:11

Things seem to literally fall into place like a Frisbee that completely covers a round spot on the blanket. But the tension never really goes above minimal level.

If you’ve seen the trailer, you know Us centers on the appearance of the Wilsons’ exact doubles in the family’s driveway, which might lead you to expect semi-farcical scenes in which the identical Not-Wilsons take their look-alikes’ places or cause at least momentary (potentially deadly) confusion. But apart from Adelaide’s double, the invaders have little in the way of personality — only pairs of scissors they aim to sink into their counterparts’ throats. And throaty grunts. And creepy smiles. And identical behaviourism like Jason playing with fire and Zora being a fast runner. Adelaide’s double really freaked me out a bit as her face was truly intense and filled with both longing and hate.

Once upon a time, there was a girl and the girl had a shadow. The two were connected, tethered together. And the girl ate, her food was given to her warm and tasty. But when the shadow was hungry, he had to eat rabbit raw and bloody. On Christmas, the girl received wonderful toys; soft and cushy. But the shadow’s toys were so sharp and cold they sliced through her fingers when she tried to play with them. The girl met a handsome prince and fell in love. But the shadow at that same time had Abraham, it didn’t matter if she loved him or not. He was tethered to the girl’s prince after all. Then the girl had her first child, a beautiful baby girl. But the shadow, she gave birth to a little monster. Umbrae was born laughing. The girl had a second child, a boy this time. They had to cut her open and take him from her belly. The shadow had to do it all herself. She named him Pluto, he was born to love fire. So you see, the shadow hated the girl so much for so long until one day the shadow realized she was being tested by God.

Although it’s packed with mythical scary images, much of the movie plays like just another walking-dead splatterfest. It’s a hide and seek game, the doubles get battered down with golf bats and thrown off the second landing and beaten down to a pulp. They don’t die easily and at one point Adelaide hits a double with a fire poker and it was almost like she just patted him down. There is no horror, no suspense, no actual fear.

This family is making jokes and eating cereals near a dead body like this would be a daily occurrence. No-one screams bloody murder once. They find out from the news and from what happened with their neighbours that this is not a one-time occurrence where only their family was targeted but a big-ass invasion of the clones from the tunnels, all dressed in red, with a gauntlet and wearing deadly scissors. I felt like laughing when I realised how stupid the plot was mid way through the 1h murdering spree.

Especially when Adelaide “terminated” one of the previously assumed dead neighbour’s kids with some scissors and making the same grunts as the double husband. Umm… she’s a clone, she got out from the play ground and she lived above earth for the next 20 years or so. This was the gist of the massive reveal at the end of the movie. The details were a bit fuzzy until then but if you have half a brain you’ll catch on early on.

In the ways that matter, the attackers are “them” and not “us.”

Wanna hear why I really went home disappointed after seeing this movie? The WHOLE Purpose of the doubles attacking the people above was to do “Hands Across America” which we see an advert of in 1986 flashbacks. I nearly threw away my £7 popcorn. The logic (or lackthereof) of The Tethered’s existence and motivation is very messy and ultimately ruins the final conclusion of the film, because it leaves too many holes in the story that need to be answered.

The reason I gave this movie a 3/10 instead of a 1/10:

Good bits: This is the sort of movie that fans will rewatch to appreciate the fillips, the purposeful echoes, the bits of foreshadowing, and the performances. Moss has little screen time, but she shows her genius as her character’s murderous double. Watch her savor the act of putting on lip gloss: Her eyes turn dreamy, and her smile spreads so wide it looks as if it will swallow her face. This is zombie Kabuki. Nyong’o hits extraordinary notes. When she’s the double, her voice is the whistle of someone whose throat has been cut, with a gap between the start of a word in the diaphragm and its finish in the head. It’s like a rush of acrid air from a tomb, further chilled by eyes like boiled eggs, fixed on nothing in this world.

Bad bits:

  • If the movie’s conceit is that the downstairs people mimic what the upstairs people do and that’s the only reason downstairs Lupita meets upstairs Lupita, because upstairs Lupita went to the hall of mirrors, are you telling me then that no one, not one other upstairs person also went to the hall of mirrors and not a single other downstairs person ever bothered to take the escalator up?
  • There seemed to be nothing, no locked doors, no guards, no security whatsoever stopping the downstairs people from wandering off, so why didn’t upstairs Lupita return to the surface as soon as she got out of the handcuffs? Why did she seemingly just stay down there and immediately start plotting an absurd revenge plot that took possibly 20 years?
  • Why did Red tell Adelaide about how she went up and saw herself, when in fact Red was actually the original girl that got kidnapped? Why is Red telling Adelaide about the tethered when Adelaide switched places with her and knows about the tethered considering SHE IS ONE? We all saw Red wake up after being switched. It was purely for exposition.
  • Other than for purposes of symbolism, why would they choose scissors as their weapon? And is there a scissors factory downstairs like a prison sweatshop? Where’d they all make red jumpsuits and golden scissors and leather gloves?
  • So, if the downstairs people mated with the shadows of who upstairs people had sex with, then how did the downstairs people give birth, raise children and with no hospitals or medicine, survive giving birth or diseases?
  • And… If the upstairs person from Chicago moves to Santa Cruz, does that downstairs person just walk the 3,000 miles through a tunnel to Santa Cruz? And if someone from Mexico moves to Santa Cruz, does that mean they have no shadow and are ultimately watching this American Genocide like, “I’m goin’ back to Mexico!” What about the people who have no downstairs doppelganger?
  • Again, I have to ask, why didn’t young upstairs Lupita just escape back to the upstairs as soon as she was free and scream about this crazy world down below?
  • Did the millions of downstairs people just all funnel out of the house of mirrors in the middle of the night? Are there multiple exits? And if so, WHY DID NONE OF THAT JUST WANDER OUT?
  • What did they do with their dead?
  • Where did they get the rabbits in the cages or the clothes on their backs?
  • And when do the downstairs people have to do what the upstairs version did? It seemed like the downstairs folk just mimicked the upstairs counterparts when it fit the plot. How much free will did the downstairs people have? That was never clear to me. Sometimes the downstairs people would copy their upstairs twin to the point of killing themselves and other times they’d stab their upstairs twin when their upstairs twin clearly wasn’t trying to stab themselves.
  • How did the Tyler’s tethers know how to shut off power and break into a house without making any noise and without any communication or direction or prior knowledge?
  • Also how did the twin clones come out of the twin’s rooms? How did they get there?

The Artsy Explanation

When the movie ends, you can rearrange the pieces in your head and appreciate the breadth of what Peele set out to achieve. Social scientists and pundits speak of human society in terms of gaps — in wages, in education, in quality of life. It’s Peele’s ingenious notion that the under- and over classes are not estranged but “tethered” in ways that those at the bottom perceive as mockery and theft but that the privileged can’t see — and can perhaps feel only at the instant those scissors slash their jugulars. As in Get Out, that privilege breeds dissociation, one of the ripest subjects for a genre that brings to roaring life the revenge of the repressed.

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