The movie is about a about a woman named Adelaide (played by the awesome Lupita Nyong'o) vacationing at their summer home near Santa Cruz with her family. When Adelaide was younger, she was at the Santa Cruz boardwalk with her parents, wandered off to a mirrored fun-house, and encountered her doppelganger (or a copy of herself). The event traumatized Adelaide as a child and even as an adult she has trouble around big crowds and especially the beach. Lo and behold, the family decides to go to the Santa Cruz beach to meet with some friends. Fast-forward a bit and the family comes face-to-face with twisted copies of themselves later that night and craziness ensues as the doppelganger family invades the home and tries to subdue Adelaide and her family. We find out later that these copies, or Tethered as they are later named, came from underground complexes. This is important.
This movie starts off with some text talking about thousands of miles of subterranean tunnels underneath the continental United States and how many of them have no known use. I'm still trying to wrap my head around the purpose of this statement. Obviously, it means something, but the movie could have pressed forward without it and nothing would have really suffered without it. However, the very next scene we see dozens of rabbits in cages and then a shot of an old television set with a couple of VHS tapes. Playing on the screen is an advertisement for the old Hands Across America charity (this is important and we'll get to it later on). The VHS tapes that stood out to me are C.H.U.D. (Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers) and Nightmare on Elm Street, obviously nods to the 80's horror scene. In fact, throughout the movie, there are other nods to horror movies like Jaws, Wolfman (given the mask that the son is wearing throughout the film), and even a nod to Michael Jackson's Thriller.
There is a common theme among these movies for the most part, and that's terror from within, or from the deep/underground. The Tethered lived underground and spilled forth upon the surface during their attack and take the nation by surprise.
This movie is layered and I bet there is a lot I missed during this viewing. However, what stuck with me, was the great acting. I loved the dad's sense of humor (played by Winston Duke), plus as I mentioned before, Lupita Nyong'o nails it. The actors in the movie also play the part of their Tethered, and for the most part, they do a great job at this.
Word of warning, if you are the type who likes to know the whole story and have all the questions answered, then you may be disappointed with the way this movie ends. It doesn't answer everything, and there was a lot of why this or why that still left on the plate. However, I'm the type who likes to fill in my own blanks and come up with my own ideas, so I quite enjoyed it.
There were a number of other questions that came up, but I really can't get into those here. So we'll just end this general review and get into the spoilers and an in-depth analysis of the film. To recap, this is a great movie that I think can appeal to casual moviegoers and those looking for deeper meanings alike. There are some genuinely creepy moments and it really taps into that fear of the unknown. I definitely recommend it.
Now, on to the spoilers...if you don't want to know, turn away now! Don't go into the fun house! Run towards the light!
Still here? Your fault now.
Okay, let's dig into this. Spoilers abound. So mentioned above I talked about the Tethered and how they were living underground. That's all fine and dandy. We see that they are copies of people up on the surface and they kind of mimic what's going on up there in a weird, off-kilter way that is disturbing. We find out later from Red (Adelaide's doppelganger) that they exist in part due to a government experiment that was trying to figure out a way to control people. At some point, the government abandoned the experiment and just left these Tethered down there. Red mentions it had something to do with being able to clone the body but not the soul.
Okay, that's all fine and good and I don't really need to know much more than that. The movie isn't about that anyway. The movie, based on my own interpretation, is about this duality. We have the "normal" world living their life above ground, enjoying their freedoms and luxuries, while the Tethered are forced to dwell beneath the surface, living a twisted and mocking version of their counterparts above. Their only source of food is the rabbits, which why we see them in cages at the beginning. I also think the rabbits represent the Tethered in a way, representing experimentation and imprisonment, because when the Tethered finally make their way to the surface, we see that the rabbits are all out of their cages now.
Here's a major spoiler about the ending...we find out that Adelaide is really the Tethered from the underground complex. Basically, she subdued the real Adelaide and dragged her down underground and "tethered" her to one of the beds, then she went back up to the surface and assumed Adelaide's life. Okay, it's a twist, right? Well, it's one that was somewhat apparent as the movie went on, and when it was actually revealed, it just raised more questions. For example, why didn't she just run away from the complex and back to the surface at the first moment she could? Was there something about being down there that kept her under control? She's the only one that can kind of talk (the rest of the Tethered just make odd grunts and animal noises to communicate), but why is it so hard for her to talk? I mean, she looked like she was seven or eight when she was taken. I'm guessing has to do with that control aspect that she mentions later in the movie. Because otherwise, why would she stay down there and basically do the same things that the fake Adelaide (or the real one...not sure at this point) was doing on the surface (i.e. having a family). Nyong'o does a great job playing both roles and does amazing at starting to show little ticks that point to her being originally a Tethered. For example, when she's fighting other Tethered, she starts to get a little more primal, and her mannerisms and noises she makes begin to mirror her attackers.
Second, we find out later that the Tethered's goal was to come up, kill their copies, and then form this human chain in the same fashion as the Hands Across America (which is why they are all wearing red jumpsuits). The next question is why? Was it to bring attention to their existence, like the original Hands Across America was supposed to bring attention to homelessness? I don't really need an explanation about that part really, it kind of just adds to the creepiness of it all. However, the only reason I ask is in relation to the part where we see the destruction of the family friends in typical slasher fashion. Because it seems like the goal was to get up there, take out folks, then form the chain. However, the Tethered version of the friends go up there, take out their clones then apparently just kind of mess around for no reason, getting all dressed up in the clothing and make-up of their dead surface dweller versions. This was another reason why I think we could have done without that whole beat. It just muddled everything. We get the fact that the Tethered are killing folks when Adelaide and her family start driving around and see that the whole town is basically turning into an apocalyptic war zone littered with dead bodies.
Those criticisms aside, the movie really is worth seeing. Jordan Peele is doing amazing things with horror, especially weird horror. I can't wait to see what he does with Twilight Zone.