Doppelgangers, trauma, and secret enemies everywhere. Jordan Peele’s 2019 film Us infused new life into classic horror tropes. Told over the course of a single day and night, the film is a tale of duality where everyone has a shadowy other self. These other selves are known as the Tethered. When they surface, the protagonist Adelaide and her family must face their own doubles if they are to make it out alive. Jordan Peele not only creates a genuinely terrifying and subversive flick, he also weaves social commentary about race, class, capitalism and modern-day America. The clever inferences, slick and gory action as well as an ambiguous ending contributed to the film’s popularity.
If you enjoyed watching Us as much as we did, keep reading to find out what else to watch now that Halloween is drawing nearer. Here are twelve films like Us that we think you’ll love (but keep those lights on!).
1. The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920)
The town of Holstenwall in Germany is visited by a peculiar pair — Dr Caligari and a somnambulist called Cesare. The townsfolk initially dismiss them as ridiculous and harmless. A string of murders soon proves them wrong and their malicious intent is revealed. It is now up to Francis, a local man, to save his fiancée Jane from the fiendish Dr Caligari, and solve the murders. Proclaimed as the first true horror film, the usage of harsh, blunt images and forms, with sharply defined distortions make it a prime example of German Expressionism.
The screenplay was directly inspired by writers Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer’s lives during World War I and offers a metaphor for the brutality of authority and Germany’s relationship with unchecked tyrants. Watch the film for a surprise twist that would undoubtedly spawn many alternate theories, had the film been made in recent times.
2. Tumbbad (2018)
Rahi Anil Barve’s Tumbbad is set in a village of the same name in Maharashtra, India. Sohum Shah plays Vinayak Rao, who recounts the story of Hastar, an ancient god. Hastar is fated to be forever trapped inside the womb of his mother, the Goddess of Prosperity, in Tumbbad. Despite being warned by many to never remember or worship Hastar, the people of Tumbbad build a temple for him. Vinayak is forced to return to Tumbbad again and again due to poverty. He takes on the quest to feed the hungry Hastar and tricks him to acquire his gold. However, greed knows no bounds, and monstrous appetites soon take over when his son follows down the same path.
Tumbbad is notable for its gloomy, gothic ambience, eerie visuals and the tragic analogy of human greed and destruction. The film was the first Indian film to premiere at the Venice International Film Festival.
3. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Deals with the devil and sinister neighbors permeate the frames of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. The film features Mia Farrow as the titular heroine who moves with her husband, Guy Woodhouse into the Bramford, a building in New York which abounds in secrets ranging from witchcraft to murder. Things begin to close in on Rosemary when she is manipulated by her husband into getting pregnant and their neighbors, the Castevets, take over almost every aspect of her life. Suspicious accidents occurring to those near her convince Rosemary that something malicious is afoot; whether or not she is able to escape remains to be seen.
Universally acclaimed as one of the best horror films ever made, Rosemary’s Baby is rife with heavy parallels — religious paranoia, feminist anxiety, loss of control and urban living. With signature camerawork that posits Rosemary as the audiences’ surrogate, the film creates a claustrophobic atmosphere that perfectly reflects the dark underbelly of 60s Americana.
4. Under the Shadow (2016)
Mother and daughter Shideh and Dorsa are at the center of this Persian psychological horror film set in the midst of the War of the Cities in 1980s Tehran. Due to her political beliefs, Shideh, a medical student is forced to give up her studies. She refuses to escape with her daughter Dorsa to a safe place, despite her husband’s insistence. In the midst of the chaos of war, they’re visited by a strange boy who brings a mysterious entity into their lives. As the war progresses, unexplained happenings and Shideh’s worsening PTSD cause their lives to be endangered all the time, until it reaches a breaking point.
The film is a masterclass in blending genres; director Babak Anvari expertly handles the uncertainty of life in war-torn terrain. The supernatural twist only emphasizes the way individual lives are changed by forces beyond their control. The film was the British entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th Academy Awards.
5. Get Out (2017)
Director Jordan Peele describes his debut film Get Out, as a horror film rooted in a satirical premise. The plot revolves around African-American photographer Chris Washington as he meets the family of his white girlfriend, Rose Armitage. The seemingly innocuous, annual family gathering is soon revealed to be much murkier when Chris discovers that it has a specific purpose. The Armitages prey upon African-American people in a uniquely perverse way, and unless he escapes, Chris could very well end up the latest in a long line of victims.
Get Out integrates classic horror film tropes such as a lone protagonist, rapid killings reminiscent of the slasher film genre, and bloody escapes. Watch the film for game-changing thrills that also offer a disturbing look at racial politics, exploitation of black bodies and interracial relationships in recent times. The film was nominated for multiple Academy Awards, eventually winning in the Best Original Screenplay Category.
6. Funny Games (1997)
A family vacation gone awfully awry is the premise for Funny Games. The 1997 Austrian film delights in leading the audience through a cat-and-mouse game between its antagonists and the family in danger. Married couple Georg and Anna arrive at their lake house with son Georgie and pet dog Rolfi. They encounter two men called Paul and Peter who seem normal, but soon reveal themselves to be sadistic killers. As they trap and torture the family, escaping seems increasingly impossible. The film makes use of common tropes in the horror and slasher genre to its advantage, pairing them with fourth wall breaks, and commentary on the film from within the film. Director Michael Haneke insists that the film is not meant to be a horror film, rather, a meditation on violence in media presented through film. It spawned an American remake of the same name in 2007.
7. It Follows (2014)
David Robert Mitchell’s film It Follows is centered around a unique premise — the protagonist Jaime (played by Maika Monroe) is stalked by a mysterious entity after having sex with her boyfriend, Hugh. He reveals that she can get rid of it by having sex with someone else, thus effectively transferring the affliction. If it catches Jaime, it will kill her and pursue the previous person to have passed it on, and so on. The film’s central idea has been read by many critics as an allegory for the exploration of sex, the taboo around free sexuality as well as sexually transmitted infections. With a minimalistic horror aesthetic that finds unsettling origins in familiar spaces, It Follows is a must watch.
8. Parasite (2019)
Parasite’s story centers itself around the poor Kim family and the wealthy Park family. The Kim family members infiltrate the Parks, working for them under various guises and striving to escape their lives of gut-wrenching poverty. Their arrangement is endangered when they discover another former employee living in the Parks’ basement — yet another ‘parasite’, not very different from them. Things come to a head while the Park family is on vacation, and the struggle to keep the secret of their deception intact can only end one way.
Parasite is not only an immensely entertaining film, but is also rich with ideas of capitalist labor exploitation, the disparity and increasing gap between the rich and the poor, and the singularly insular nature of wealth accumulation. The film garnered a whopping four awards at the 92nd Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director for Bong Joon-ho.
9. Lost Highway (1997)
Directed by David Lynch, Lost Highway is a neo- noir film that revolves around the disappearance of a musician named Fred Madison, after he begins receiving mysterious surveillance tapes of his house. One of the tapes appear to be framing him for the murder of his wife, Renee and he is sentenced to jail. A young mechanic named Pete inexplicably takes his place as an explanation for the events are sought, yet never provided. All this while, mysterious figures lurk in the background. The film is wickedly surreal, blurring reality and dream, truth and fantasy. Any explanation of the events is never offered and the open-ended implications only hint at certain directions that the audience may choose to venture into, with the director describing the film as a psychogenic fugue.
10. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
This cult classic tells the story of a California town by the name of Santa Mira, where people collectively start reporting cases of relatives being replaced by identical look-alikes, devoid of all humanity. This is initially dismissed as mass hysteria, but as time progresses, a psychiatrist, Dr. Miles Benell realises that this is not a hoax. The impostors are being created from pods, which have arrived from an alien life form. As the entire town is slowly converted and replaced, Benell forms an alliance with Becky Driscoll, his former girlfriend to keep his sanity intact and make it out alive.
Regularly touted as a sci-fi classic, the film offers plenty of ideas on loss of individuality, conformity and surveillance. Critics and audiences alike have viewed it as a reaction to the rise of McCarthyism and rigid adherence to populist ideals in America.
11. Possession (1981)
Possession unfolds with slow, almost theatrical intensity, telling the story of an international spy, Mark, who has returned home after an assignment only to discover that his wife Anna wants to leave him. While she insists it is not because of an affair, Mark is contacted by a man named Hienrich who claims to be Anna’s lover. Meanwhile, Anna’s mental state keeps worsening and her psychosis manifests itself as a dark creature. A troubled marriage and its collateral damage are laid bare, as Mark and Anna grapple with their innermost darkness. Doppelgangers, marital troubles that take a turn for the worse and gory sequences make this film a must watch. Possession earned lead actress Isabelle Adjani the Best Actress Award at the 34th Cannes Film Festival.
12. Black Swan (2010)
He picked me, mommy.
Obsession, identity, duality and perfection are at the center of Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan. Nina Sayers, a ballerina is picked to embody the dual roles of the White Swan-Odile/Black Swan-Odette in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. While she is flawless in embodying the virginal and pure Odile, she fails to let loose and capture the wild essence of the dark Odette. Competing with her for the role of Odette is Lilly, a novice who appears to have just joined the ballet company. An obsession to be the best and the limiting world of ballet itself lead Nina down a spiral. In the process she comes face to face with her own darkness, her own black swan.
The film is noted for using the source material of Swan Lake as an important plot addition as well as a relevant thematic guide. It earned several Oscar nominations and lead actress Natalie Portman garnered her first Oscar for Best Actress at the 68th Academy Awards. [Related: Black Swan Explained]
Genres like horror, thriller and sci-fi have always been mediums for artists and audiences alike to project subliminal fears regarding their place in time and history onto fictional stories. Gender anxiety, racial and xenophobic biases, the huge chasm between the have and have-nots or even the innermost neuroses of the mind — all of them find adequate expression through film in a way that allows for catharsis, for a collective sigh of relief. As if to say, “lesson learnt.”
So, there we have it, twelve films like Us. If you like films that will haunt you (pun intended!) long after the screen’s gone dark, these are for you. Which of these have you already ticked off your list? What did we miss? Let’s talk in the comments below.
An avid reader and a life-long lover of blue skies, I like to spend my time with obscure poetry and dissecting films. Currently besotted with Maupassant, art history and all things Nolan, you can find me spacing out to Queen while I look for new things to obsess with.