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Jordan Peele has high hopes for audiences after they see Us. The filmmaker’s latest horror movie and follow-up to Get Out centers on a family haunted by doppelganger versions of themselves and the premise, which continues to unfold as the pic goes along, is intended to spark conversation and self-reflection.
“I want moviegoers to be thinking, ‘Ok, what the eff did I just see? I need to process it.’ I want them to be feeling like, ‘I had fun. And now I need to talk about it,'” Peele told The Hollywood Reporter at the New York City premiere of Us.
When introducing the Universal film and its family members — played by Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex — to an eager crowd at the Museum of Modern Art on Tuesday night, Peele himself reflected on the full-circle moment of premiering his second feature in his home city. He then offered this to the audience: “When we have an Us, we have a Them. So whatever Us means to you, however you take this film, think about how you treat Them and think about if you really look at Us and our responsibility for the evils in the world.” He then added, “Are you ready?”
Peele and the cast were careful to avoid any spoiler talk when promoting the pic. Us, which was written and directed by Peele, follows the Wilson family during a beach getaway. And while there are many moments of comedy layered in, the movie remains a terror ride. As the trailer shows, the Wilsons’ vacation is interrupted when four ominous strangers, who look just like the family members, appear on their driveway and refuse to leave.
“Here’s a middle-class black family that’s just going on vacation like middle-class Americans do. They’re not onscreen because they’re black. Their story is not about being black. And that’s hugely important,” the film’s composer Michael Abels, who also scored Get Out, told THR. “You just watch them and you’re expected, no matter what you’re background, to empathize with them because they’re the main characters and they’re like you and me. And that is kind of revolutionary.”
Peele has said the pic is less about race than the Oscar-nominated Get Out, and that Us is about the fact that everyone is their own worst enemy.
“We are our own worst enemy — how?” Peele told THR of how viewers can approach the film. “Think about this as sort of the collective dark side of all of us and, that way, if you’re looking at the problems of the world and pointing your finger out, then ask yourself: ‘What’s my part in it?'”
The filmmaker’s cast, including the scene-stealing young actors, expanded on Peele’s message.
Duke told THR, “I hope moviegoers really take an introspective eye at themselves and really ponder their role in cultures of power: Who do you render speechless? Who do you render invisible? Who bears the burden of your privilege?”
Added Nyong’o about the audience, “I hope they’re confronted by themselves.”
Ten-year-old Alex, who said his biggest challenge was playing dueling characters in the same day, offered this warning: “Be aware of your decisions. Because sometimes people will make decisions that they’re going to regret in the future.”
And Joseph, 13, said that working on the film had her thinking about her own inner monster. “What I learned was really to just get out of my shell sometimes. And get out of my comfort zone to get out there and just do it. I definitely would not be doing all this if I was trapped in myself,” she said, relating the plot to her filming experience.
In a recent profile with THR, Duke spoke about how he wished he had seen a “fully fleshed-out black male character” like his Wilson patriarch when he was growing up. At Tuesday’s premiere, the actor spoke about the impact Us could have when it comes to telling more diverse stories on the big screen.
“There’s a lot of diversity, but we’re also having a conversation about nuance and ownership,” Duke said, using Us as an example. “Jordan Peele owns this. Jordan Peele wrote, directed; he had a lot of other people of color in creative roles behind the scenes. And it’s giving us the ability to tell more nuanced stories and stories that we control, and I think that’s really a big part of the conversation: ownership and nuance. Showing different colors in the spectrum of blackness.”
The idea of duality is very present in Us and, to the cast, the question about what the doppelgangers represent on a larger scale shows how Peele’s vision remains open for interpretation.
“To me, the doppelgangers represent the underprivileged. I feel like they are people who haven’t had opportunities. They could be any one of us. Except that we’re somehow the lucky ones and they aren’t. You are both terrified by the doppelgangers and you empathize with them,” said Abels.
Tim Heidecker, who plays the father of the neighboring Tyler family (along with onscreen wife Elisabeth Moss), told THR that the villains represent a dark, deep fear invented by Peele, “which is that the worst-case scenario would be somebody that’s basically you, coming to get you.” During his second viewing, Heidecker said he honed in on what Peele has been talking about: “We push a lot of blame out into the world thinking that other people are responsible for the problems in the world, and sometimes you can look in the mirror.”
According to Joseph, two of the eeriest details in the film come from Peele’s own fears. “The rabbits and the scissor are two things that Jordan is afraid of. So he thought it would be a good idea to make everyone afraid of them!” the actress told THR.
The costumes worn by “The Tethered” — the name of the doppelgangers — were designed to be bold and “reminiscent of classical horror-movie villain iconography,” producer Ian Cooper told THR of the red jumpsuits, single glove and golden scissors uniform. The minimal design is mixed with religion and “hinges on the ceremonial,” said Cooper of the cult vibe. That attention to detail is one example of the “level of mischief” Cooper saw in Peele’s filmmaking and storytelling that led Us to becoming a sprawling and ambitious film that has a lot to say: “What if you’re literally confronted with yourself as an actual enemy and what that would do to you, both physically and psychologically?”
Added producer Sean McKittrick, “Get Out was a phenomenon, and I think we’re seeing it again. I think audiences want to see original, diverse filmmaking. The thing that makes our whole entire group and family on the film very proud is that we do feel like Jordan is paving the way for a generation of new filmmakers, and that in and of itself is incredible.”
Us is set to hit theaters Friday.
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