For the faithful, religion is a comfort. It allows us to believe we’re not alone, that there’s a presence that will catch us if we fall, that no matter what we do, we’ll be forgiven—as long as we keep the faith. The horror genre loves to contemplate the absence of faith in films like The Exorcist, The Omen, and even The Nun, movies where souls are eternally damned and retribution rises from a very dark place. Writer/director Jordan Peele takes it a step further in Us, his new movie that highlights a society untethered from faith and comprised of humans entirely self-consumed and detached from one another.
The disturbing new horror film centers on a vacationing nuclear family. On the surface, the Wilsons are just like many of us in today’s digital age: Completely disconnected from each other and engrossed in their own needs, desires, and fears. Three members of the family are immersed in pedestrian preoccupations: Teenage Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) tunes out the world with earbuds and the latest jam; her younger brother Jason (Evan Alex) hides behind a mask, only pulling it up to eat or receive a stern talking-to from his parents; dad Gabe (Winston Duke) is obsessed with family time on his terms, from showing off his crappy secondhand boat to forcing them into a beach day at Santa Cruz.
But mom Adelaide’s (Lupita Nyong’o) anxiety is different. For her, returning to the beach means returning to the scene of life-altering terror. As a child, she encountered her own twisted doppelgänger in a funhouse mirror at the Santa Cruz amusement park. More than just a reflection, the twin was a physical being: dominating, horrifying, and possessing a mind entirely of her own. A sign at the park Adelaide sees just before the fateful encounter reads, “Jeremiah 11:11,” referring to the Bible passage that includes the foreboding words, “Therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them.” It’s a warning Adelaide didn’t heed—a prophecy she’s lived with ever since.