The writer-director's highly anticipated followup to social thriller "Get Out" follows Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong'o), as she heads back to her hometown of Santa Cruz with her two children, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex), as well as her husband Gabe (her "Black Panther" co-star Winston Duke) for a beach vacation with old friends. The weekend soon goes very, very wrong: Adelaide is forced to confront a traumatizing childhood incident, along with a red jumpsuit-wearing doppelgänger family lurking in the driveway. Meanwhile, the audience must confront some deeper themes, too (that we promise not to spoil here).
"I think ['Us'] is more than a political movie, but in the post-Trump era, the finger-pointing in this country was turned up to a whole different notch — whether it's the finger-pointing at the outsider, the mysterious invader, or the finger-pointing at other Americans who voted a different way," Peele told the Los Angeles Times. "The feeling that we all feel we are the good guy in our own story prevents us from facing our demons."
Does that mean the alterna-Wilsons — or "The Tethered" — in their coordinating blood red outfits are supposed to represent that demon within us? Well, in the same L.A. Times interview, Peele says: "It's no mistake, it's no coincidence, that the Tethered are wearing red and have one glove."
Per the trailer, Adelaide's realization somehow relates back to a terrifying, eventful moment that took place in a house of mirrors in 1986. The movie itself is packed with '80s horror movie and pop culture references, including, Hands Across America, "The Lost Boys" for the boardwalk, "Jaws," and — very relevant to now — Michael Jackson's "Thriller," referenced through young Adelaide's T-shirt and the crimson Tethered ensembles.
"The jumpsuits are a very impressionistic kind of realization of [Adelaide's childhood memories] ... also, that particular song and the visuals it brings back," says costume designer Kym Barrett, who recently designed onesies of a different nature in "Aquaman." "It's quite horrific, right?" (Peele told Mashable that "everything in this movie was deliberate" and "Michael Jackson is the patron saint of duality.")
"The jumpsuits are a visual embodiment of something that is prevalent in everyone, in everything," she adds. "The world needs us to stop segmenting people into 'us' and 'the other.' But, in this case, the jumpsuits tell us they're on one side of the coin, [the Yin side to the Yang side], and it can flip." The coordination of the suits also visually confirm the Tethered as a unified group. "You can't be mistaken for somebody else, and — particularly in this movie, in which you are a double — you have to be able to be distinguished," she notes.
Barrett designed a "utilitarian," fit-all silhouette and intentionally cropped the pants to "show the ankles, particularly, so that you'd really see the flesh and bone of these people." She also shortened the sleeves for a practical reason: "So the blood could be seen on the hands," bringing to mind the mysterious scarecrow-like figure, which Jason discovers on the beach, with blood dripping off its fingers.
Barrett also over-dyed and ombré-shaded the fabric to create a "watercolor painting or a Rorschach inkblot"-like effect, also speaking back to the movie posters, trailer credits and various conspiracy theories. Barrett also carefully took the movie's dark lighting and production design by Ruth De Jong into consideration for the specific red hue. "I wanted a complete matte palette that could absorb light, not reflect it. The story is all about absorption," says Barrett. "It's all about this little mind which sucks all of this information in, like a sponge, and it has to explosively be forced back into the world."
In regards to the color palette, Barrett intended for Adelaide and her family to come across like "glowworms in the darkness" on screen, while the Tethered "are like a bloodstain within the frame. I wanted them to really bleed out from the background," she adds. The group's Jesus-meets-Tevas footwear complete the ominous, unified effect. "The sandals really helped with that large, utilitarian mob, almost cult-like visual," explains Barrett, who admits to being a "scaredy cat" herself when it comes to horror movies.
Eagle-eyed conspiracy fans have also noted the preponderance of V shapes in the movie, including Adelaide's shirt (above), which becomes blood-stained and slashed in an angular way. Barrett confirms the angles are intentional, but practical — regarding the costumes, anyway. "I wanted to get reflection on the face," she says, as the V allowed light to naturally reflect off the chest, enhancing especially suspenseful moments.
Like in "The Favourite," rabbits play into the story — both real bunnies running about in a clinical white room and Easter Eggs "sprinkled" into the costumes. Keep an eye out, especially for Zora's tops (psst: "tho" has another meaning). "There are little things we put in just because a) they looked good and b) they're a little something," says Barrett. "But it doesn't really mean anything more than just a reference."
Jason's tuxedo-print top with matching checked pants actually represent "magician pajamas." "It's all about how magicians use mirrors and reflections," she hints — plus, illusionists do sometimes include rabbits in their acts, just saying. Jason's long-sleeve "Jaws" T-shirt isn't just a "nod" to the '80s (and an homage to one of Peele's favorite movies), but it also helps set an over-arching tone at the start of the film. "It builds up this generational myth and also cements [the setting] in California, Hollywood, movies and horror," says the costume designer.
Barrett emphasizes that she designed the costumes to help visually "illuminate" Peele's "strong script" and powerful story, but didn't overtly incorporate social commentary into the costumes. Of course, the bold red jumpsuits send an impactful (if not bone-chilling) message all on their own; we can imagine that the contrast in costumes also helped the leads transform into their counterparts to the Wilson family. (Nyong'o told the LA Times that people on set avoided eye contact with her when she was in her Tethered character. "She is truly terrifying," confirms Barrett.)
"They all had this great kind of joy putting it on," she says of the actors each donning the jumpsuit, sandals and glove — and, in some cases, carrying oversize gold scissors. "Then they just went off on their own tangents."