They show us what we look like, but not who we are. They make sure our hair’s combed down, our collar’s on straight, that nothing’s stuck between our teeth. But they don’t show us what’s inside¬—our pains, our sins, our selfishness, our guilt. We don’t show people what we really are. Sometimes, we don’t show ourselves.
When Adelaide was a little girl, she got lost in a hall of mirrors. Her mother was in the bathroom, her father engrossed in a midway game of whack-a-mole. Adelaide wandered down the boardwalk stairs, onto the Santa Cruz beach and through a mysterious door. And when she wanted to get out again, Adelaide couldn’t find her way.
Adelaide saw herself in there—or so it seemed. Not a reflection, but another little girl who looked just like her, dressed just like her, but one who whistled in a strange, choked pantomime of Adelaide’s own.
Adelaide never forgot that night. She couldn’t. Even though she’s grown with children of her own now, the memory still haunts her. She knows it’d sound crazy to her husband, Gabe, but she can’t shake the feeling that the girl—the mysterious little waif with the warped whistle—is coming for her. And coming closer.
Adelaide and Gabe pack up the kids to go to their lake house not far from the Santa Cruz beach. Gabe insists they meet friends there on the sandy shore, and Adelaide reluctantly goes along. But her sense of foreboding, even terror, grows deeper. Sharper. Back at the lake house later that night, she tells Gabe everything: the hall of mirrors. The little girl. Her very real fear. “Gabe, I want to go,” she says. And Gabe reluctantly says they will.
But out in their driveway, they spy … a family. A man, a woman, a girl and boy.
That’s creepy enough, but here’s the thing: They look like Gabe and Adelaide and their children, Zora and Jason. Not exactly alike, perhaps: The man’s missing Gabe’s spectacles. The little boy’s face is covered with a mask. They’re all wearing red jumpsuits, too. And then there’s something else … something about their expressions. They look different somehow. Warped, maybe, like a funhouse mirror.
With a murmur and click, the Adelaide doppelgänger sends her family scurrying—almost as if they’re engaged in a military exercise. The boy scurries into the bushes. The girl creeps past the trees.
And then the clone of Adelaide pulls out the scissors.
Us is a provocative movie, dealing with a host of themes that we’ll touch on later. But obvious morals to this story are not in the offing here. That said, we do see family members who do their utmost to save and protect one another, even under extreme and bloody duress.
As a child, Adelaide sees a man holding a cardboard sign that reads “Jeremiah 11:11.” It’s a fitting verse for the sort of man you’d expect to be holding a cardboard sign on a beach, but also a bit of foreshadowing of what’s to come. “Therefore, thus says the LORD, Behold, I am bringing disaster upon them that they cannot escape. Though they cry to me, I will not listen to them.”
Adelaide’s double—called “Red” in the credits—is surprisingly religious: When she first talks to Adelaide, she says that she was “rescued by God,” and she discusses (what she sees as) the saving aspects of her faith at other junctures, too.
The house of mirrors that Adelaide goes into as a girl is a Native American-themed attraction called “Vision Quest,” imploring would-be visitors to “find yourself.” When Adelaide returns to the beach with her own kids, the attraction has been rebranded as “Merlin’s Enchanted Forest,” but the words “find yourself” are still there.
During their first night at the lake house, Gabe mutters under his breath that he’ll meet Adelaide in the “magic room,” referring to their bedroom. And when he does come to bed a short while later, he tries to be alluring—spreading his legs across the bed suggestively (while still wearing a long-sleeve T-shirt and shorts).
Some friends of Adelaide and Gabe have two teenage daughters, one of whom wears a bikini top to the beach. We see other bathing suits and short-shorts, too. We hear husbands half-jokingly plead for their wives to kiss them.
Let’s just get to the (ahem) meat of the matter: Most hospitals don’t have this much blood in stock. So let’s dive into the hemoglobin without hesitation.
People are sliced up with scissors, and most of them quickly die from their injuries. One such victim doesn’t expire immediately, but crawls across a carpet—choking and gurgling as she goes—before she’s finally put out of her misery. She and someone else lie in massive pools of their own blood. A man (filmed from a distance) is attacked by a scissors-wielding child. We hear his cries of pain, and we assume that he succumbs to his injuries off-camera. Another person is cut several times with long-bladed sheers. We see dozens, perhaps scores, of other dead bodies in driveways, streets and beaches; and we hear news reports (and other bits of evidence) that suggest the total fatality count could be in the thousands or even higher.
A couple of people are killed (or nearly so) with a golf putter. Someone falls to a presumed death. One guy gets ripped apart by a motor boat engine. Someone chokes another person before breaking the victim’s neck with a sickening crack. A kid beans an assailant with a heavy, decorative rock, presumably killing the attacker. A man stands, curiously, in the middle of a beach, his right hand dripping with blood. (Jason later draws a picture of the man and his red hand.) Someone’s run through with a poker: We hear the victim grotesquely gag.
One man hits another guy in the leg with a baseball bat, seriously hurting the latter. Two people nearly drown. Someone walks into a raging inferno. Another hangs in a tree, the body apparently broken in two. A boy bears terrible burns on his face. Someone chokes someone else. A scissors-wielding assailant smashes glass with the blade. A driver tries to run somebody over. A person is beaten to death with a poker.
A woman gashes her own cheeks with scissors. Someone presses another woman’s face against a glass tabletop, and we see the top sprout spider-like fractures. A guy tries to use a flare gun as a weapon. We see people eat what looks to be raw meat—meat, it’s suggested, that comes from rabbits. (We hear loads of suggestive, animalistic screams in the background, too.)
“Don’t swear at the table!” Gabe tells his young son, Jason, when he lets an s-word fly. But Gabe and lots of other folks swear plenty themselves, both at and away from the table.
We hear about 40 f-words, the majority of them connected to the N.W.A. song “F— the Police” (which plays in the background of a brutal scene). We also hear about 15 s-words and a variety of other curses and slurs, including “a–,” “d–n,” “h—” and the n-word.
God’s name is misused seven times, including three pairings with “d–n.” Jesus’ name is abused five times. Kitty and Josh, friends of Adelaide and Gabe, own a boat named with a variation of “b–ch.”
Arguing with his sister, Jason tells her that she can “kiss my anus.” When Gabe expresses his horror, Jason defends himself, saying he didn’t use a swear word. “I would’ve extremely preferred a curse word in this case,” Gabe says.
Adelaide drinks only water. But Kitty and Josh both like their adult beverages. Josh hands Kitty a glass of wine on the beach, calling it her “medicine.” Sometime later, Kitty tells Josh that it’s surely “vodka o’clock,” intimating that it’s time to leave the surf and sand and find a place with stronger beverages. At home, Josh relaxes with a glass of whiskey, initially refusing to investigate a strange noise.
In flashback, we see Adelaide’s father drink a beer, and he snips at his wife because she doesn’t want him having another.
Gabe, Adelaide and the kids groove to Luniz’s hip-hop song “I Got 5 on It.” When Jason asks what it means, Zora tells him it’s about drugs. (And she’s right: it’s a reference to paying half for a $10 bag of marijuana.) Gabe insists that no, it’s not about drugs.
Kitty and Josh could really use some marriage counseling, given that they clearly dislike each other. They’re also incredibly materialistic, and Gabe suspects that Josh may sometimes flaunt his wealth to make Gabe feel bad. Gabe also has a materialistic streak.
Zora tells the rest of her family that the government puts fluoride in the water to better control people. The teen spends a lot of time with her phone, sometimes hiding under the covers with it to keep her use a secret from her mom. Family members don’t always treat each other with much respect, and kids sometimes gently mock their parents, too.
Writer/director Jordan Peele’s Us isn’t quite the genre mash that his previous film, the horror satire Get Out, was. This is a more of a bloody, barrel-ahead slasher flick.
But Peele’s newest movie still has plenty on its mind. The film explores themes of inequality (not so much racial as social this time around) and American materialism, as well as offering a more esoteric rumination on the duality of the soul. It’s hardly a coincidence, I think, that the most popular weapons here are scissors—a pair of blades that form the whole tool.
“I kind of consider my role as an artist holding a mirror up to the sort of nitty-gritty evils that make us human,” Peele told USA Today. “Because I feel like when we ignore these things, then bad things happen. I’m a truth seeker in my work.”
Those seeking truth in Us may find hints of it … after a fashion. But they’ll also find plenty of coarse language and streams of blood. While Peele’s newest film isn’t as graphic as it could’ve been—the camera pulls back or looks away at some critical junctures—it’s hardly a model of restraint. This horror flick is, indeed, horrible—terrifying to behold and gruesome to absorb.
Jordan Peele knows how to draw a good story, no question. But when he colors it in, it’s always dripping red.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.