‘They look exactly like us. They think like us. They know where we are. We need to move and keep moving. They won’t stop until they kill us… Or we kill them.’
This explanation comes about halfway through the film, at a pivotal moment for the Wilson family. At this point, they’ve proven themselves to be much more than passive victims. Whether adults or children, men or women, they are fully capable of defending themselves against these invaders. Gabe’s Tether, Abraham, is dead. So are Kitty, Josh, their daughters, and their respective twins. There’s still a long way to go, but for the most part, fear is gone. What’s left is revenge.
But revenge for what ?
As we learn in the final act of the film, the Tethers are the victims of a world that didn’t want them. They live in the sewer, powerlessly mimicking the actions of the ones above. They eat raw rabbit and replace words with inhuman groans. The sequences we see from Red’s perspective are chilling. Adelaide’s father above is a fun, if irresponsible father. His döppelganger’s face is distorted into a permanent laugh that would bring chills to anyone. The Tethers can only get a lesser, grotesque version of the life their original counterparts are leading.
As surprising as it might have been for most viewers, the final twist of the story is what makes the entire film possible. Looking back, it could have been possible to guess that something was different about Red. Most obviously, she’s the only Tether who can speak. While most of the Tethers simply go after their double to kill them as soon as possible, Red has her fun playing with her double. All the Tethers see in their double someone who has had a chance at living a life they never had. The real difference with Red is that she had that life once, making her anger all the more powerful.
If the Tethers are victims, does that make humans villains ? The obvious answer is no. Filmgoers are brought to empathize with the Wilson family before anyone else. Four scary intruders force their way into a lovely family’s house. They have every right to defend themselves.
How quickly normal people can turn into cold-blooded killers is a thing that is rarely questioned in horror. After all, it wouldn’t be much fun to watch someone get paralyzed by fear and killed by whoever their enemy is in the first fifteen minutes of the film, would it ? Under the pretense of survival instinct or hidden pasts, regular individuals become strategists and experts at handling firearms. Most of the time, it’s easy to overlook to have a good time. In Us, not only is it the case, but the family’s willingness to fight back as soon as the invasion starts makes perfect sense.
Of course, the most obvious case is, as previously mentioned, Adelaide’s. She knows exactly who Red is and what she took from her, and she’s not willing to give any of it back. In Red, she sees who she used to be before being given a chance at life. She sees what she could have become. In her most distressed moments, grunts pass her lips, her movements become less graceful and more disjointed. They are perpetually in danger of switching places again. What is less obvious is that even those that never switched in the first place have the same anxieties.
Gabe is known in the family for his (bad) jokes and upbeat personality. Abraham, his shadow, has an unnatural frown, his eyes furrowed, his mouth in an upside-down grin. On the contrary, Zora is through the family’s introduction shown with an apathetic attitude, glued to her phone screen. Umbrae’s mouth is fixed in a smile, her eyes barely blinking. Jason may be the most obvious one: the boy has always been obsessed with magic tricks and fire. Pluto shows the consequences of all the injuries he avoided on his face.
We don’t know enough about Josh and Kitty to confirm that their doubles are in the same situation, but it’d be logical enough to think so. In their Tethers, the human see everything that they’ve been avoiding, everything they fear they could become. It awakens in them a fear that can only be absolved through elimination.
Many interpretations of Us have been proposed from the moment it came out. What is remarkable are how different they are, and how plausible they all seem. Allegories of race, gender, class, nationality, current and past political climates all fit within the confines of Peele’s narratives. In the end, it is because all of these issues often boil down to the same thing: the fear of an ‘Other’, and most specifically, the fear that they might be just like ‘Us’.
By making us question who the ‘us’ of the title is and by giving us reasons to empathize with both Tethers and humans, Peele blurred the lines between ‘us’ and ‘them’ in the most terrifying ways. Interpretations of the film will most likely tell us more about ourselves than about the film, which is a testimony to its universality. Some might think it’s a bit too early to say so, but Us will most likely soon become a classic for both horror fans and casual filmgoers alike.