Us (2019 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Jordan Peele|
|Written by||Jordan Peele|
|Music by||Michael Abels|
|Edited by||Nicholas Monsour|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Box office||$255.1 million|
Us is a 2019 American horror film written and directed by Jordan Peele, starring Lupita Nyong'o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Elisabeth Moss, and Tim Heidecker. The film follows Adelaide Wilson (Nyong’o) and her family, who are attacked by a group of menacing doppelgängers.
The project was announced in February 2018, and much of the cast joined in the following months. Peele produced the film alongside Jason Blum and Sean McKittrick (with the trio previously having collaborated on Get Out and BlacKkKlansman), as well as Ian Cooper. Filming took place from July to October 2018 in California, mostly in Los Angeles and Pasadena and also in Santa Cruz. Us was Peele's second horror film after Get Out.
Us had its world premiere at South by Southwest on March 8, 2019, and was theatrically released in the United States on March 22, 2019, by Universal Pictures. It was a commercial success, grossing $255.1 million worldwide against a budget of $20 million, and received praise for Peele's screenplay and direction, as well as the musical score and Nyong'o's performance.
In present day, the adult Adelaide is haunted by memories of the encounter. She goes with her family - husband Gabe Wilson and their children, Zora and Jason - to their house in Santa Cruz. She is apprehensive about the trip, but Gabe, eager to impress their rich friends Josh and Kitty Tyler, brushes off her misgivings. At the beach, Jason sees a man standing with his arms outstretched, blood dripping from one hand.
That night, a family of four dressed in red appears in the Wilsons' driveway. They break into the house and attack them. The intruders are the Wilsons' doppelgängers, led by Adelaide's double, Red. The only one who can talk, Red explains that the doppelgängers are called the Tethered, that they share a soul with their counterparts, and that they have come to "untether" themselves. She tells them the story of a girl who is loved and happy while her "shadow" remains in the dark, suffering.
The family is separated by their doppelgängers: Red makes Adelaide handcuff herself to a table; Zora is pursued by her double, Umbrae; Gabe is pursued by Abraham; and Jason is sent to "play" with Pluto. Zora evades Umbrae and Gabe kills Abraham, while Jason discovers that Pluto mirrors his actions and locks him in the closet. Red is drawn away by Pluto's cries, allowing Adelaide to break free. The family regroups and escapes on their boat.
Meanwhile, the Tyler family is murdered by their Tethered. The Wilsons arrive and are forced to kill the Tylers' doubles. They turn on the news to see that the Tethered have been murdering their counterparts across the nation. When Zora drives the family away in the Tylers' car, Umbrae attacks, but Umbrae is killed when thrown off the car.
At the Santa Cruz boardwalk, the Wilsons find the road blocked by their own car, which has been set on fire. Pluto has set a trap for the Wilsons, standing over a gasoline trail with a match. Jason, remembering that Pluto imitates him, makes Pluto walk into the fire. Red abducts Jason. While Gabe recuperates from his wounds with Zora, Adelaide returns to the funhouse and finds a secret tunnel in the hall of mirrors. It leads to an underground facility overrun by rabbits, where she finds Red.
Red explains that the Tethered are clones, created by the government to control their counterparts on the surface. When the experiment failed, the Tethered were abandoned underground for generations, mindlessly copying the actions of their counterparts until Red organized them to escape and take revenge. Red and Adelaide fight, with Red countering all of Adelaide's attacks. As Red moves for a final stab, Adelaide impales Red with a fireplace poker and strangles her to death, before rescuing Jason from a locker.
Adelaide drives the family away in the ambulance and recalls the night she met Red in the hall of mirrors. The doppelgänger choked Adelaide unconscious, chained her in the underground, and secretly took her place in the world above; "Adelaide" was the clone. Across the hills, the doppelgangers join hands to form a massive human chain.
|Performer||Main character||"Tethered" character|
|Lupita Nyong'o||Adelaide Wilson (née Thomas)||Red (née Adelaide Thomas)|
|Madison Curry||Young Adelaide||Young Red|
|Ashley McKoy||Teenage Adelaide||Teenage Red|
|Winston Duke||Gabriel "Gabe" Wilson||Abraham|
|Shahadi Wright Joseph||Zora Wilson||Umbrae|
|Evan Alex||Jason Wilson||Pluto|
|Elisabeth Moss||Kitty Tyler||Dahlia|
|Tim Heidecker||Josh Tyler||Tex|
|Yahya Abdul-Mateen II||Russel Thomas||Weyland|
|Anna Diop||Rayne Thomas||Eartha|
|Cali Sheldon||Becca Tyler||Io|
|Noelle Sheldon||Lindsey Tyler||Nix|
|Napiera Groves||Dr. Foster||Amethyst|
|Jordan Peele||Dying Rabbit/Fun House Narrator||N/A|
After being dismayed with the "genre confusion" over his previous film, Get Out, Peele opted to make his next film Us a "full-on" horror film, which was described by Rolling Stone as "spill-your-soda scary" compared to the "existentially terrifying" Get Out. Peele has said that an inspiration for Us was the Twilight Zone episode "Mirror Image" that was centered on a young woman and her evil doppelgänger.
Principal photography began on July 30, 2018 in Santa Cruz, California, including the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Most of the film was shot in Los Angeles, and the main house featured is located in Pasadena. The house had modifications and the team spent six weeks there. Filming wrapped on October 8, 2018.
Themes and interpretations
Critic Jim Vejvoda related the Tethered to "urban legends" and "xenophobic paranoia about the Other", also writing they resembled the Morlocks in H. G. Wells's 1895 novel, The Time Machine. Journalist Noel Ransome viewed the film as being about "the effects of classism and marginalization", writing "the Tethered are effigies of this same situational classism. They're trapped—mentally and physically—and ignored". Joel Meares of Rotten Tomatoes also noted that the Tethered, referencing the "we're Americans" line, are representatives of the duality of American society, how some citizens can afford to live on top of the class system, while others are stuck in poverty. He also noted the title Us could mean "U.S.", or United States.
Manohla Dargis of The New York Times notes that the Wilsons are "introduced with an aerial sweep of greenery" similar to the opening of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining and sees that movie as the principal influence on Us. Describing Peele as a "true cinephile", she also identifies allusions to other films, including Jaws, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and The Goonies, as well as one scene suggesting an influence by the Austrian film director Michael Haneke's 1997 horror film Funny Games and subsequent U.S. remake.
The Tethered's red jump suits and single glove were an allusion to Michael Jackson along with the "Thriller" shirt seen on young Adelaide, and Peele has stated that Jackson was "the patron saint of duality". Peele referenced many other instances of 1980s culture, including allusions to The Lost Boys and Hands Across America, stating "Everything in this movie was deliberate, that is one thing I can guarantee you. Unless you didn't like something and that was a complete accident".
The film contains numerous references to Jeremiah 11:11, which reads: "Therefore thus saith the Lord: 'I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them'" (NIV). Critic Rosie Fletcher commented on the context, with Jeremiah warning Jerusalem was facing destruction due to false idols, and expressed the opinion that the film's characters also "worshiped the wrong things", such as Ophelia, the virtual assistant.
One of the central themes in Us is that we can do a good job collectively of ignoring the ramifications of privilege. I think it's the idea that what we feel like we deserve comes, you know, at the expense of someone else's freedom or joy. You know, the biggest disservice we can do as a faction with a collective privilege like the United States is to presume that we deserve it, and that it isn't luck that has us born where we're born. For us to have our privilege, someone suffers. That's where the Tethered connection, I think, resonates the most, is that those who suffer and those who prosper are two sides of the same coin. You can never forget that. We need to fight for the less fortunate.— Jordan Peele
The official trailer was released on December 8th, 2018. The trailer, which was set to a darker version of the song "I Got 5 on It" by Luniz, featured a similar tone, editing, and shots as Peele's Get Out, prompting speculation that the two films were set in the same universe.
A second trailer was released on February 3, 2019, for Super Bowl LIII. The trailer features a narration by Lupita Nyong'o's character Adelaide, speaking with her husband Gabriel about the strange coincidences happening since they arrived at their beach house, and describing it as a "black cloud" hanging over them. The new theatrical release date, March 22, was announced at the end of the trailer. Deadline Hollywood estimated the studio spent around $77 million on promotion and advertisements for the film.
Us had its world premiere at the South by Southwest festival on March 8, 2019. It was also screened on March 6, 2019, before its official release, at Howard University. The film was originally scheduled for theatrical release in the United States on March 15, 2019, but was pushed back a week to March 22, following the announcement of its festival premiere.
Us grossed $175 million in the United States and Canada, and $80.2 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $255.1 million, against a production budget of $20 million.
In the United States and Canada, initial tracking had Us grossing $35–40 million in its opening weekend. By the week of its release, estimates had risen to $45–50 million, with advance ticket sales on Fandango outpacing A Quiet Place ($50.2 million) and Get Out ($33.7 million). The film made $29.1 million on its first day, including $7.4 million from Thursday night previews, one of the best-ever for a horror film and far higher than the $1.8 million Thursday grossed by Get Out, increasing weekend estimates for Us to $68 million. It went on to debut to $71.1 million, the second best opening for a live-action original film after Avatar ($77 million in 2009), as well as the third-best total for a horror film after It ($123.4 million in 2017) and Halloween ($77 million in 2018) and the best ever opening for an original horror film not based on a known property. In its second weekend the film made $33.6 million, dropping 52.7% (slightly above-average for a horror film but much larger than the 15% seen by Get Out), finishing second, behind newcomer Dumbo.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 93% based on 512 reviews, with an average rating of 7.95/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "With Jordan Peele's second inventive, ambitious horror film, we have seen how to beat the sophomore jinx, and it is Us." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 81 out of 100, based on 55 critics, indicating "universal acclaim." Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale, while those at PostTrak gave it an overall positive score of 80% and a 60% "definite recommend."
Monica Castillo of RogerEbert.com gave the film four out of four, writing that: "Us is another thrilling exploration of the past and oppression this country is still too afraid to bring up. Peele wants us to talk, and he's given audiences the material to think, to feel our way through some of the darker sides of the human condition and the American experience." David Griffin of IGN gave the film 9.0/10, calling it "a very, very strange film. But that's OK because it wouldn't be a Jordan Peele joint if there wasn't a little risk involved. Peele has proven that he's not a one-hit wonder with this truly terrifying, poignant look at one American family that goes through hell at the hands of maniacal doppelgangers". John DeFore of The Hollywood Reporter called Us "a fiercely scary movie whose meaning is up for grabs".
Richard Brody of The New Yorker called the film a "colossal achievement," writing that, "Us is a horror film—though saying so is like offering a reminder that The Godfather is a gangster film or that 2001: A Space Odyssey is science fiction. Genre is irrelevant to the merits of a film, whether its conventions are followed or defied; what matters is that Peele cites the tropes and precedents of horror in order to deeply root his film in the terrain of pop culture—and then to pull up those roots."
Conversely, Stephanie Zacharek of Time thought Peele had too many ideas and not enough answers compared to Get Out and said, "Peele goes even deeper into the conflicted territory of class and race and privilege; he also ponders the traits that make us most human. But this time, he's got so many ideas he can barely corral them, let alone connect them. He overthinks himself into a corner, and we're stuck there with him."
The 1995 Luniz song "I Got 5 on It" is featured in this movie, first at the beginning, when the family is driving to Adelaide's family vacation home and later on in the film, when the family of tethered break into the vacation home. The once-fun song transmogrifies into an eerie "Tethered Mix", slowing things down, and fully indulging the ominous quality of the film. Peele claimed the inspiration for using this track came from the movie Nightmare on Elm Street. Peele, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, said "I'm making a movie in Northern California, that's a Bay Area hip-hop classic."
Adelaide, as a young girl, starts whistling "Itsy-Bitsy Spider" when she is down in the funhouse, in front of the hall of mirrors. Her doppelgänger starts whistling the same song too, right before they see each other for the first time.
Us was nominated for one Art Directors Guild, four Critics' Choice Movie Awards, one Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild, three MTV Movie & TV Awards, eight NAACP Image Awards, four People's Choice Awards, seven Saturn Awards (winning one), one Screen Actors Guild Award, and one World Soundtrack Awards (won).
“The shorthand cheap version that I sort of would throw out as the general starting point guideline is, they’re doing what we’re doing but the scary version. Whatever that means, it’s the scary version. And the momentum that we’re trying to build thematically in the movie is trying to get to this idea that the version up here, the normal version, may be just as crazy as the below version even though we’re used to this kind of insanity. You know, our mania is in consumerism and one-upmanship, in cutting our faces open, going to amusement parks where we pay money to get in these devices where we scream. I wanted to sort of put this connection together [so], at the end of the film, you’re sort of left unsure who the scarier ones are.”
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- ‘Us’: Jordan Peele Reveals What the Tethered Have Been Up to
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