Editor’s note: This article is spoiler-free and provides no specific plot points about the film.
From the moment it was announced last year, with no plot details at all, just that it was a “new nightmare from the mind of Jordan Peele,” the world has been feverishly waiting for the Get Out director’s second film, Us. Led by Lupita Nyong’o with Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Anna Diop and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, the film centers on doppelgangers that torment a family on vacation as a disturbance bubbles under the surface. With his second feature, Peele completely obliterates the concept of a sophomore slump, debuting what will go down as the first true, soon-to-be-iconic horror classic that we’ve seen in many, many years.
Inherently, it is extremely hard to even compare Get Out and Us, because both of them are such different films. While Get Out was a social thriller, using many horror concepts, Us is a true-bred horror film through and through, which recalls the most classic horror movies in film history. Even when you look at it from a glance, it checks off so many boxes: look-alikes, a home-break in, slashing, zombie invasion and menacing kids, just to name a few. It’s an elevated-concept horror flick that really uses the genre history as a launchpad into something new and fresh. And the scares are truly next level. While Get Out mostly provided the shocks that popped up here and there, Us is a full-on barrage that will have you unnerved the entire time, but unable to look away.
Shahadi Wright Joseph, Winston Duke, Jordan Peele, Lupita Nyong'o, Evan Alex, Tim Heidecker, and Elisabeth Moss attend the 'Us' Premiere during the 2019 SXSW Conference and Festivals at Paramount Theatre on March 8, 2019 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Ismael Quintanilla/Getty Images for SXSW)
Shortly after the film’s SXSW premiere, Peele spoke to Shadow And Act about the film, its influences and more. Out of all the films that Us harkens back to, there are particular, noticeable influences of 1980’s The Shining, especially in the multi-faceted performance of Lupita Nyong’o, the literal duality of all the main characters and of course, we can’t forget about the twins. “There are definitely so many I could name...really that Northern California, that Bay Area feel,” Peele said when talking about style and setting of movies that influenced Us. “But I really love The Shining. You ask me any day of the week what’s my favorite horror movie and 2 out of 3 times, I’ll say The Shining.”
But what Peele started with Get Out and continues to do in Us is create his own lane. Get Out was laying down the pavement, and Us is putting down the markers. “Out of all of these homages, I’m hoping that it becomes its own and spawns its own subgenre of this socially-conscious horror,” Peele told us.
Right after promo kicked off for the film, Peele stated that unlike Get Out, Us would not be about race. And he was right on the money. While the Wilson family happens to be Black, they could be of any race -- which is a really important filmmaking decision by Peele because so many times Black actors and characters do not get to reap the benefits of colorblind writing and casting. While Us not about race specifically, there are a lot of socially-relevant statements that the film is trying to make and it is hard to unpack all of them at once. But, at the heart of the movie is the idea of not realizing how we are the ones who are undermining our own selves.
“I think the most central theme of the film is that you are your own worst enemy. We are our own worst enemies,” explained Peele. “And this is about a lot of what’s going on in our country right now. We’re too busy demonizing ‘the other’ and passing the blame.”
While all of the cast is on their A-game during this entire, wild ride of a film, Lupita Nyong’o, in what could be considered her first leading role in a film (Nyong’o was placed in Supporting categories for Queen of Katwe’s awards campaign) is truly a stunner. She’s so incredibly gripping that you’ll be wondering why Hollywood hasn’t been giving the Oscar winner everything that she wants on a silver platter. On tapping Nyong’o as the lead, Peele added, “It’s crazy that this is pretty much her first time leading a film because she’s been capable of it and she really gives a tour de force performance.”
Winston Duke also gives an incredibly comedic, yet stirring performance, proving his versatility in under two hours (also, cast him in all the rom-coms).
What’s really magnificent are the performances from the younger actors: Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex and Madison Curry. Half of the time, the most seasoned of professionals may have a hard time attacking two roles at once, but these youngsters showed up like they’ve been here. “All of them are such great actors and it was such a pleasure working with them,” Peele said. “You know, I like to get with them before they get to Disney Channel [laughs], and they were just so outstanding.”
Up next for the auteur is the premiere of his reboot of The Twilight Zone on CBS All Access, which has a cast list that reads like a who’s who list of guest stars: Sanaa Lathan, Jessica Williams, Zazie Beetz and many more. And according to the filmmaker, it’ll fit right in this subgenre lane that he’s created with his first two features. “It’ll have the easter eggs that we’ve been doing in the films. I love Rod Serling’s work and hope that we do him justice.”
Us debuted at the SXSW Film Festival on March 8, 2019. It debuts in theaters nationwide on March 22, 2019.