So much of Jordan Peele's second feature film, Us, is genuinely horrifying. The trailers are just creepy enough to intrigue us, and the haunting remix of "I Got 5 on It" by Luniz dictates its whole chilling vibe. Plus, the very premise of the film is terrifying — fans were so desperate to make sense of it all that they thought up their own wild theories practically seconds after the trailer debuted. But no theory could come close to the actual ending of the film, which we're here to discuss, below.
Warning: major spoilers for Us ahead!
Who Are the "Tethered"?
In the beginning of Us, we meet the Wilson family: Adelaide and Gabe (Lupita Nyong'o and Black Panther's Winston Duke) and their kids, Zora and Jason (Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex). The four travel to Adelaide's childhood vacation home in Santa Cruz, CA, for an idyllic Summer getaway, but it's hard for Adelaide to unwind because she's haunted by a trauma that happened there when she was a kid. It all comes to light after a day on the beach with their family friends, Kitty and Josh Tyler (Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker, respectively).
Adelaide reveals to Gabe that when she was a child, she went with her parents to an amusement park on her birthday and wandered into a house of mirrors attraction alone. While she was in there, a storm cut the lights and she stumbled into a section of the funhouse where she ran into a little girl who looked exactly like her, down to her pigtails and the "Thriller" t-shirt she was wearing. Adult Adelaide tells Gabe that she ran out after that, but he finds it hard to believe her story until the entire family is soon confronted by demonic versions of themselves (who we learn are called the "Tethered") later that same night.
As the film proceeds, we see the Wilson family battle their doubles as Red (Adelaide's jumpsuit-wearing double who is the only Tethered to actually speak) leads them to attack the family. The Wilsons are able to escape long enough to catch the demise of the Tylers and learn from a news program that the entire country is under attack by murderous doubles. This leads Adelaide to declare that they're driving to Mexico to escape. By this point, both Gabe and Zora are able to kill their Tethered doppelgängers, Abraham and Umbrae. The family then begins their drive out of California, but they're stopped when they encounter Jason's masked doppelgänger, Pluto, in front of a burning car in the middle of the road.
Jason manages to manipulate Pluto into committing suicide by using the latter's innate urge to mirror his movements and have him walk into the blaze. Red kidnaps Jason while everyone's attention is on Pluto, which forces Adelaide to run after them. The chase leads Adelaide back to the funhouse from her childhood, and she somehow knows exactly where to go to find Red (this is important!): an underground tunnel with multiple rooms filled with rabbit cages, bunk beds, and classrooms. Adelaide comes across Red in one of the classrooms as the latter stands in front of the board, cutting figures out of construction paper as she reveals the truth behind the Tethered and why they've come.
Why Did the Tethered Choose to Attack?
Red explains that the Tethered came to be as a government project, initially created to control the people they were modeled after. When they realized that the Tethered only replicated the bodies of their originals and not their souls, the government left them to ruin in the tunnels. Red has always been different from the others, though — she can speak and seems generally more intelligent than them. In response, they make her their leader, and she comes up with an idea for how to rebel against their originals. As we see, their plan is to kill their originals and form a line inspired by the 1986 charity event Hands Across America, in which people joined hands in a human chain for 15 minutes. According to Red, the line is a symbolic act to bring awareness to the Tethered's existence.
After this reveal, Adelaide and Red engage in a fierce battle that sees Adelaide suffer two stabbings from Red's golden scissors before she manages to impale the other with her fire poker. When Red slumps down, she begins whistling the tune we hear Adelaide whistle as a child in the house of mirrors. Adelaide leans over to choke Red with the chain of her handcuffs, letting out a guttural scream when the other finally dies. She finds Jason hiding in one of the lockers nearby and attempts to reassure him that everything is all right, but he seems scared of her now.
What Is the Twist in Us?
Us's final reveal comes as the entire Wilson family reunites and continues their drive out of California. Adelaide has a flashback to her childhood, where we see her in the house of mirrors that connects to the home of the Tethered's underground. As young Adelaide (played by Madison Curry) encounters her double in the dark, we see that the young doppelgänger actually knocks her out and drags her underground into the tunnel and switches places with her. The "real" Red leaves Adelaide handcuffed to a bunk bed and takes her place in the world above; this is why Adelaide's parents felt their daughter had changed after the day at the beach, why "Red" is the only Tethered who can speak, and why she leads a rebellion.
Back in the present day, the false Adelaide smiles as she realizes she's safe from being found out. That is, until she turns to see her son, Jason, staring at her with a suspicious expression on his face from the passenger side of the car. Even though she smiles at him, he turns away, pulling his mask back onto his face as if shutting himself away from his false mother.
The film ends with a view of the state of California, where the Tethered can be seen forming their human chain for miles. The Wilsons may have survived the film, but they'll probably never know that they're actually with the real Red, and they'll never really know who their wife/mother is. The monster is a part of "us," no matter how hard we try to bury it.