Jordan Peele's 'Us' Does More Than Scare at SXSW Premiere

Ismael Quintanilla/Getty Images for SXSW
'Us' premiere at SXSW

The Universal thriller's writer-director explains that he also set out to deliver a message about the country: "Maybe the evil is us."

When Jordan Peele's new movie Us made its debut Friday night at SXSW, there was no shortage of gasps from crowd.

The Universal horror film, which stars Lupita Nyong’o and Blank Panther breakout Winston Duke, delivers on the promise of a terrifying thriller with a clever play on menacing doppelgangers — but it also offers a deeper sociopolitical message that's likely to satisfy fans of Peele's prior hit film, Get Out.

Before the screening started at the Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas, Peele joked from the stage, "What if I just showed you four episodes of This Is Us without explanation?" What followed, of course, couldn't have been further from the warmhearted network series — though the film did offer more laughs than Get Out did. The Hollywood Reporter's film critic called it "a fiercely scary movie whose meaning is up for grabs."

At first, when asked what he hopes viewers take away from Us, Peele demurred. "It's a question I'm hesitant to answer, because my favorite thing is the idea that people will leave ready to have a conversation with whoever they are with," he said. "I have a very clear meaning and commentary I'm trying to strike with this film — but I also wanted to design a film that's very personal to every individual."

But the writer-director eventually opened up about his intended meaning behind the film. "This movie is about this country," he said. "When I decided to write this movie, I was stricken with the fact that we are in a time where we fear the other, whether it is the mysterious invader that we think is going to come kill us or take our jobs, or the faction that we don't live near that voted a different way than us. We're all about pointing the finger. And I wanted to suggest that maybe the monster we need to look at has our face. Maybe the evil is us."

Us took the festival's coveted opening premiere slot, one that Paramount had last year with John Krasinski's horror breakout A Quiet Place. The screening was a hot ticket among festival goers and even drew several stars and industry figures who weren't involved in the making of the film. Among those seated in the crowd or seen bustling around the packed afterparty held at Ironwood Hall were Jeffrey Katzenberg, Marti Noxon, Shia LaBeouf, Nick Kroll and Ike Barinholtz.

On hand for the premiere was the entire cast, which included Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss. Peele added that of all the actors, it was Nyong’o who "scared the shit out of" him on set. The feeling was evidently mutual. "Working with Jordan Peele terrified me!" Nyong’o said. "With Get Out, I was just like, ‘Oh my god!’ He's so intelligent, and he does such incredible things with story. To think I was going to be working with him next, I couldn’t even compute it in my head."