I saw Jordan Peele’s “Us” in an early release a couple weeks ago and had initially planned on writing this response that same night. That, unfortunately, did not happen. “Us” is a film with a lot to unpack, and it will leave you with questions not only regarding the story, but also the world in which the story is built. While it would be difficult for any film to follow Peele’s sensationally thrilling debut, “Get Out,” it is difficult for me to fully embrace “Us” even as a stand-alone venture.
Lupita Nyong’o stars as Adelaide Wilson, a woman who returns to her childhood beach house in Santa Cruz with her husband and two children. She is haunted by a traumatic experience that she had as a child, and this trip with her family has Adelaide on edge. After a series of eerie coincidences, four intruders appear in the Wilsons’ driveway and approach the house, revealing themselves to be doppelgangers of Adelaide and her family members. They separate and torment the family, acting as part of a larger radical movement in which doppelgangers called “the Tethered” attack and destroy U.S. households.
Peele’s film is packed heavily with themes and metaphors that are all clever and thought-provoking but underdeveloped. In my notes, I made a list of themes that “Us” touches upon, and while it is already a lengthy list with at least 15 items, more reflection would likely bring that number even higher. The list includes things such as home invasion, personal trauma, fear of government, fear of terrorism, fear of technology, captivation, evil twins and more. Much like how these words merely represent flashes of larger ideas, the film operates in a similar fashion, brushing shoulders with a variety of concepts without latching onto anything in particular.
The most overt message is tied to the hall of mirrors and the idea of a doppelganger. As a motif in the film, these mirrors prompt us to reflect upon American society and discover deficiencies that distort how we are perceived and how we perceive ourselves.
Despite this inundation of potential thematic directions, the final sequence serves as our only pure source of understanding for both the plot and the structure. While “Get Out” was expertly crafted, building upon each scene with new information and gathering solid momentum before the final plot reveal, “Us” lacks developments and clues leading up to the climax.
The body of the film is largely uneventful and oversimplified, made up of a series of slasher scenes as the doppelgangers wreak havoc throughout the Wilsons’ neighborhood. Although it offers the audience with a few interesting metaphorical clues, it is not until Red (Nyong’o), Adelaide’s doppelganger, gives a final monologue that we are given any context to these moments.
This lead-up feels disappointing in the shadow of “Get Out,” which took advantage of every moment in the story to create a believable world, and fleshed out the context throughout the entire narrative, rather than waiting until the last few minutes.
Even after cramming the film’s structural premise into the final moments, its message is largely obscured by the complexity of Peele’s worldbuilding and plot development. The ending completely subverts the audience’s emotional response to the film, calling each character’s development into question and complicating everything established until this point. Perhaps these questions are not important, or perhaps they are what Peele wanted us to wonder about after the film comes to a close. This choice, however, does not feel like a fair challenge. Provided with little to no introduction of the foundational elements of “Us,” how can the audience be expected to accept the story built on top of it?
While “Us” does offer an innovative dystopian world and a few notable acting performances from its cast, the film’s competing ideas make it difficult to emerge with any productive insights. Despite its fresh and exciting moments of thrill, “Us” results in confusion that is not synonymous with depth – a major disappointment for a film with such potential. As the film somewhat alludes to, our ambitions can often be the cause of our own undoing, and “Us” falls victim to one of its own warnings by taking on more than it has time to explain.
Olivia Simon is a senior in the School of Foreign Service. Director’s Cut appears in print every other Friday.