When Jordan Peele’s directorial debut Get Out hit screens in 2017, it was a revelation. Peele was known as an incisive comedian from his racially frank, wide-ranging sketch show Key and Peele, but nothing in his history suggested he had such a talent for crafting mesmerizing horror stories. Get Out is a startling, frightening film, but it’s also meticulously crafted to make the audience politically and socially uncomfortable, with a candid, unflinching message about how black and white Americans interact, and an allegorical underpinning designed to make viewers of any race squirm with discomfort — while still laughing at the ironic humor in Peele’s script.
Peele has been hugely in demand ever since — he’s been tied to a vast slate of films and TV shows, including producing the Tracy Morgan comedy The Last O.G., the YouTube series Weird City, and the fast-approaching Twilight Zone reboot. But the new feature film Us is his first solo writing-directing project since Get Out. And it’s being met with vocal anticipation and nervous hope, as his fans wonder whether Get Out was an unrepeatable one-off flash of genius, or just the first salvo in a long line of memorable movies to come. Us suggests that both of those things might be true — the new movie isn’t as unconventional as Get Out, or crafted with the same kind of watchmaker’s attention to how every tiny gear fits together. But it’s striking and unsettling, the kind of horror movie designed to make audiences walk away feeling leery about ordinary things around them, from shadows at night to mirrors to rabbits to scissors.
What’s it about?
Opening on a shot of a television in 1986, helpfully framed by shelved VHS copies of highly relevant horror movies like C.H.U.D. and A Nightmare on Elm Street, Us initially takes place in two timelines. In 1986, as the Hands Across America benefit is being staged, a young girl (Madison Curry) visits a Santa Cruz beach boardwalk and confronts an eerie apparition that looks just like her. As an adult, Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) remembers this encounter with a heavy sense of dread, and when her husband Gabe (Winston Duke, M’Baku from Black Panther) books a vacation that takes her back to the same beach, she starts experiencing frightening flashbacks. Soon, eerie dopplegängers of Adelaide, Gabe, and their children Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jacob (Evan Alex) appear, wearing red jumpsuits and wielding brightly colored, hellishly sharp shears. Everything that falls out from there — what the doubles are, where they come from, and what they want— comes as a series of shocks better experienced than described.
What’s it really about?
Us doesn’t foreground its social metaphor as openly as Get Out, but it’s baked into the premise just as thoroughly. At the post-premiere Q&A at SXSW, Peele said the film is fundamentally about America’s misplaced fear of outsiders. “This movie is about this country,” he said. “We’re in a time where we fear the other, whether it’s the mysterious invader that we think is going to come and kill us and take our jobs, or the faction we don’t live near, who voted a different way than us. We’re all about pointing the finger. And I wanted to suggest that maybe the monster we really need to look at has our face. Maybe the evil, it’s us.”