Us Movie Review – Jordan Peele, Horror, the Final Girl, and Why Adelaide Is a Complicated Villain – ELLE

Every item on this page was chosen by an elle editor. We may earn commission on some of the items you choose to buy.
Warning: Spoilers for Us follow.
You think you’re having a restful summer vacation with your family, but as the night closes in, so does a group of four people who look exactly the same as you and yours—cast in shadows, standing in your driveway. What do they want? All that you are and everything you have.
That’s the nightmare of Jordan Peele’s new horror movie Us. The film centers on the experience of the well-to-do African-American Wilson family; parents Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) and Gabriel (Winston Duke), and their daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and son Jason (Evan Alex). These doppelgängers—or Tethered, as Peele refers to them—are the products of a failed U.S. government experiment to create controllable human clones. Now, they have left their underground communes, and want to kill and take the place of their counterparts.
Us is a film about inheritance; who gets to be us (our personas, souls, the essence of who we are as individual and family units) as well as the legacy of the U.S. (the United States of America). Right now, there’s an urgent white anxiety about and fear of people of color—exemplified by Donald Trump’s fixation on his proposed border wall and terrorist displays like the car attack in Charlottesville. In Us, Adelaide and her family must confront their discomfort and fear when faced with versions of themselves stripped of every privilege. And when we discover that Adelaide is not who we think she is—that she’s actually one of the Tethered who has usurped her real-world counterpart—it’s hard not to reflect on the country’s reckoning with its past sins of genocide and land theft. (We’ll refer to the first version of Adelaide we meet as “Adelaide” throughout.)
Peele has said he wanted to highlight how “we like to point the finger,” and emphasize that “we are a nation…that fears the other…and maybe we are our own worst enemy.” It is not simply Adelaide who stares out into the dark, shoulders tense with anticipation of the retribution from the woman whose life she has stolen—it is us, the U.S., as well.
The doppelgänger is such a rich horror metaphor because it points to how we define humans and the boundaries of humanity. The appearance of such a being causes sheer terror, through confronting one’s own Other. All three iterations of Invasion of the Body Snatchers explore the idea of the doppelgänger, using alien pods to produce the replacements. But Peele is most in conversation with the lesser-known Jessabelle (2014), in which a young white woman, Jessabelle, discovers she is the adopted replacement for the half-black child her mother bore through an interracial affair. The girl child is killed by the woman’s husband, and Jessie is haunted and eventually replaced by her racial and familial doppelgänger.
Peele resurrects these complexities of race, gender, sin, and theft. When they meet their doubles, the Wilsons sit on their couch in a state of disbelief. Jason declares: “They’re us.” When Adelaide asks “Who are you?” Red responds: “We’re Americans”—and the audience gets to experience their very own chills. The Wilsons’ silence is response enough; there are literally no words to describe the horror of the Other. The doppelgänger forces one to look at oneself laid bare. What does it mean to be “Us”? To be an American? Who are we without the trappings of capitalism, stripped of the “civilizing” traits of education and privilege? And most importantly, what is so horrifying about the most pure form of ourselves?
In Us, Peele is also having separate yet intertwined conversations with his Black and non-Black viewers. Black viewers can see themselves in Red, as she embodies the returned revenge of the dispossessed, the purposely forgotten, those who have been used and sloughed off so that America’s project of civilization can succeed. Other viewers might identify with Adelaide, walking through life terrified that the sins of the past await penance. The terror of the Tethered is their disruption, how they pierce the lies Americans tell themselves to make it through one more day. When it’s revealed that Adelaide is the true villain of the story, this becomes even more clear: She has spent the second half of the film handcuffed, literally tethered.
Peele is a student of horror who purposely remixes classic clichés of the genre, melding questions of horror, history, humanity, and accountability. C.H.U.D. (1984) and The People Under the Stairs (1991) both deal with entire hidden worlds occupied by not-quite-human others living right under our feet and unapologetically bursting into the world above them. Us also contains explicit visual references to Friday the 13th (1980), as when Gabriel’s Tethered counterpart Abraham rises out of the water—a moment that hearkens back to Jason Voorhies rising out of the water to drag the final survivor into the murky depths of Camp Crystal Lake (itself a mirror of the lake in Us).
There’s another classic horror trope at play in Us: the final girl. Horror scholar Carol Clover defines the final girl as she who survives the onslaught of the killer by ultimately becoming one herself—dispatching him so that she may live. The final girl is the heroine of the horror film; the audience identifies with and roots for her to win against the villain. But Adelaide is a different kind of final girl—she isn’t who we thought she’d be. She’s victim and villain, threat and threatened, protagonist and antagonist.
Adelaide is a complicated villain: We empathize with her will to live, to privilege the self, and take advantage of that one opportunity that could change her entire life. That empathy for Adelaide spurs our own self-interrogation: What does it mean to be unsure exactly who to root for? How moral are our own decisions in the name of survival? Red—the real Adelaide—is also quite justified in both her anger and her wish for vengeance. But whose side do we take?
The fact that we can relate to Adelaide—see ourselves reaching through the mirror and seizing the life we find so compelling—demonstrates Peele’s mastery. Our discomfort with the consequences of the choices we make is not only what makes the film so disturbing, but also why viewers are having passionate discussions on social media, texting their friends with questions at 3 A.M., and making plans to see the film yet again.
Looking in the mirror is difficult, and Us knows it. Peele asks his audience to face ourselves in this dark hour, as a way to name the terror of not only America’s past, but of a present in which all of us play a part.
Us is in theaters now.

‘Princess Diaries 3’ Is Officially Happening
Meghann Fahy on ‘The White Lotus’ Season 2
Inside Princess Diana & Hasnat Khan’s Relationship
Things You Didn’t Know About ‘White Christmas’
Emily in Paris Returns in December
The Crown Skims Over the Royal Foot Scandal
Who Dies In ‘The White Lotus’ S2?
The Massive ‘Yellowstone’ S5 Will Have Two Parts
‘The White Lotus’ S2 Episode Guide
The True Story of Princess Diana’s BBC Interview
Why Did ‘The Crown’ Make Tampongate So…Sweet?
Everything We Know About The Crown Season 6
A Part of Hearst Digital Media
Every item on this page was chosen by an ELLE editor. We may earn commission on some of the items you choose to buy.
©Hearst Magazine Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *