A Tale of Two Cities

'Us' brings publicity to Santa Cruz

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Photo by Lluvia Moreno

In Jordan Peele’s horror movie “Us,” Adelaide Wilson confronted a darker side of herself. As the setting for the film, Santa Cruz had to do the same.

Filming “Us” brought over $1 million to Santa Cruz’s economy, said Christina Glynn, communications director for Visit Santa Cruz County. The popularity of “Us” — which made over $70 million its opening weekend — brought the city incredible publicity. 

This has both attracted and repelled tourists.

“Santa Cruz worked for the movie really well, because it’s a beach town and people come here for vacation,” said third-year UC Santa Cruz student Aspen Adams, “but at the same time there’s some elements of it than can be a little unnerving in the right context at night.”

Some fear the film will expose those chilling undertones. Isabel, a UCSC second-year and Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk employee who declined to provide a last name, decided not to watch “Us” for fear it could affect her ability to do her job without feeling scared. 

Some who saw the blood-curdling scenes at the Boardwalk walked away less inclined to visit.

“I don’t think I would’ve associated [the Boardwalk] with being scary inherently,” Adams said, “but after watching the movie, […] if I did go at night I could see myself getting a little freaked out.”

The film’s popularity shows some people enjoy being frightened. The week following the release of “Us,” the Boardwalk’s Haunted Castle and the Fright Walk ride saw a spike in the number of visitors, said Boardwalk spokesman Kris Reyes.

Christina Glynn believes the film’s darkness contrasts with the sunny city, which highlights the positive aspects of Santa Cruz, connecting this to the eerie “Tethered” in the movie.

“This sunny, happy, classic beach town is juxtaposed against this darker, more sinister plot line,” Christina Glynn said. “One sort of illuminates the other, just as in the film when the little girl is in the house of mirrors, she’s looking at […] her opposite reflection in the mirror.”

Regardless of the fear factor, Glynn believes the prominence of Santa Cruz in the movie adds to the intrigue of the city as a tourist destination. Just being in a movie brings more attention to Santa Cruz. Even Adams, a Santa Cruz resident, drove around West Cliff with her roommate after the film’s release to try to figure out where scenes were filmed.

The city’s fame is nothing new. “Us” is just one of several popular movies filmed in Santa Cruz, including the 1980s horror movie “The Lost Boys,” which drove movie-based tourism for years, Glynn said. 

“[‘Us’] will attract an audience that may not have otherwise thought to come to Santa Cruz,” Glynn said. “Every year we have people come into our visitor center and they want to know where [‘The Lost Boys’] scenes were filmed […] ‘Us’ certainly has a lasting power to […] become the next cult classic, sort of the next generation of ‘The Lost Boys.’”