The most powerful weapon in horror is iconography. I know, it doesn’t sound scary, but semiotics are foundational to every successful horror franchise. From Jason’s goalie mask and machete, to Freddie’s fedora and razor blade fingers, a compelling combination of wardrobe and weapon aren’t just great for merchandising and Halloween costumes - they actually help filmmakers define meaning and motive. No one has embraced that more effectively in recent years than Jordan Peele just did with Us.
Look no further than the ravenous fan art created well before the film was ever released. Based simply on the alluring images in the Us trailer, hundreds of beautiful posters were created using the film’s already iconic red jumpsuits, white rabbits, and golden scissors. Individually, none of these objects are particularly menacing. But together, they promised a compelling premise through eerie juxtaposition.
Of the three, the film’s oversized scissors certainly dominated the marketing, with Peele even clipping a small one to his lapel at the film’s SXSW premiere, and Lupita Nyong'o sporting miniature ones as earrings. It works because the objects themselves aren’t ghastly. As you know better than most, scissors are first and foremost a tool, usually only considered a danger in the event of an accident (unlike, say, knives, which often intended to be lethal). The big and small ones you have sitting around your studio, for example, probably don’t give anyone pause. Or at least they wouldn’t, until now.
Now, they should make everyone think twice.
For a movie with such a loaded premise as Us, where doppelgängers are hunting a family that share their likeness, it’s not hard to extract meaning behind why scissors, traditionally used to cut, reshape, and untether objects, would be the weapon of choice. They’re too impractical not to be symbolic. Which is a lot like many plot points in the movie. I don’t want to get into spoiler territory here (people tend to intercept these letters we write), but suffice to say there are no superfluous lines of dialogue or decor decisions that aren’t intended to signal something. As an audience member, this can sometimes be a bit exhausting - we know that the extended gag about dad buying an ill-functioning motorboat is pure set-up, for example. But when you’re in the hands of someone who just won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay with Get Out, it’s not hard to cut him a little slack. The seams might show at times, but the final result is fascinating enough to forgive whatever intention might seem tacked on.
The film is also growing in my estimation with every day that passes. I may have more questions than answers, especially when it comes to the practicality of the big reveals, but like a tailored suit that’s snug even in unflattering places, it’s on me to suck it up - I wouldn’t expect you to cut a thing.