Spoilers below for Us, +1 and Cam
I got out of seeing Us last night with an uneasy weight in my stomach that I couldn't pin-point to any specific part of Jordan Peele's latest release. Of course, Us is full of dread and disturbing imagery, but that wasn't what left me feeling on-edge in the very early hours of this morning. Peele had managed to tap into a primal fear of the 'other', the possibility of another Me, sharing my universe, suffering more than me, and knowing about it whilst I remain oblivious.
The idea of the doppelganger has been explored throughout film history, from Vertigo and The Great Dictator, to contemporary cinema like Moon or Black Swan. It's clear that audiences share a common fear of this concept, which makes for really great horror. As I lay awake last night I started to list other doppelganger films that disturbed me, and landed on the below three to explore further.
+1 is a slick, rich-teen 'here's to the rest of our lives' party movie set over the course of one night. Its beachy-waves-20k-instagram-followers exterior belies its true intention as a high-concept horror film. When I first went into this, I had no idea what to expect. I was riding high on a crush on Ashley Hinshaw after Chronicle and I didn't even watch a trailer. I would suggest you don't too.
If you ever wanted a film to cover a kegger, plus the paradigm of time-shifts, then do I have the movie for you. What if something outside of our control blipped our universe, the fabric of time gets a tiny rip in the seam, and all hell breaks loose. +1 deals with past selves, only a few minutes past, being transported into the present time frame, creating exact carbon-copies of the teen protagonists, but slightly behind their perception of reality. You walk out of a room, two minutes later your doppelganger walks in, by the time they have mirrored your exit, you've already moved on to somewhere else. You could live your whole life living with a shadow, we all could, we very well could be right now. What about when someone says they saw you grabbing coffee but you know you weren't drinking coffee that week? Hey presto, your doppelganger is amongst us.
Our teens eventually discover something terrible has gone wrong and ruminate on questions I would ask myself in this situation. How do you defeat your exact copy? In life there will always be people who are better than you at certain things, but what about someone who is just exactly as good as you? Someone exactly as qualified for a job and inclined to apply for it too, someone who would get on with your true love just as well as you? Then imagine that dilemma for every person on Earth. They reach the natural conclusion that in order to thrive, only one of their selves can live.
Could you murder yourself? Would it go against all natural instincts? Would you simply come face-to-face with yourself outside of a mirror or a camera and breakdown? No human has ever seen themselves face-on. Perhaps the burden would simply be too much to handle. Besides, once the fight has diminished, how would you know which was victorious? Could your boyfriend now be the 'other' boyfriend? How do you explain to yourself that only you are allowed to live when confronted with a human with thoughts and feelings, who has caused you no harm. Though +1 is only one night, the aftermath has endless horrific possibilities. Society could never recover.
The concept of only you having a doppelganger can be a different beast all together. In Cam, Lola (an up-and-coming cam girl) finds herself slowly being usurped by an entity that looks just like her. This is made all the more troubling because unlike in +1, no one else is going through this with her. Why would anyone believe such a preposterous claim even when the evidence is staring them in the face? It's too much to comprehend, that a cyberotic version of yourself is trying to destroy your life with no given explanation.
Cam sees Lola go from the top of her game to a shell of her former self. The doppelganger not only takes her income, but it takes her soul, twisting her into a paranoid wreck who throws herself into more and more dangerous situations to claw back her identity. The crescendo of Cam sees Lola confronting her replica through webcam, playing a deadly game of Simon Says to outsmart the doppleganger. Lola has to sacrifice her own safety to out-smart the double, giving a chunk of flesh to have the rest of herself for her alone.
Again I wonder on the effects of extinguishing a part of yourself. Though the relief of normalcy must be craved, can you ever truly be the same once you have killed a part of yourself.
Us takes a more scientific approach to the doppelgangers (the tethered). They crawl up from the sewers, they are entirely aware of us, their counterparts, and they do mean us harm. The tethered experience our lives but without any of the stimulae, born without a soul their emotions manifest as anger. The tethered in Us, though the most menacing, may be the most sympathetic of the doppleganger genre. Is it really that unjust to want to be free, to choose their own actions and decide their own lives?
Rather than a random happenstance, Us is a coordinated attack in which no one can be spared. It is even more chilling that the tethered would seek out their above-earth selves specifically to murder them. As these are husks of humans, what is the end goal? The scenes of the tethered fulfilling the twisted Hands Across America plan are one thing, but what was to come next is what gives me goosebumps.
We know that the tethered have the ability to learn to talk (given enough time), but without the influence of regular humans going about their day-today lives, would they ever be able to achieve the coveted roles of functioning humans that was worth the attack in the first place. They have essentially doomed themselves to a lesser existence, without he pull and sway from their dopplegangers that has dictated their lives so far, what will become of them once they release each other's hands?
Perhaps a front-row seat to America's demise was the actual goal all along.