Jordan Peele′s ′Us′ explores the horror of doppelgangers | Film | DW | 20.03.2019
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Film

Jordan Peele's 'Us' explores the horror of doppelgangers

After conquering Hollywood with his directorial debut, "Get Out," Jordan Peele is back with "Us," a horror film with a middle-class African-American family in the center. It stars Lupita Nyong'o and Winston Duke.

One evening, a family of four shows up at the entrance gate of the Wilsons' beach house. The father, mother, daughter and son, all dressed in orange suits, just stand there in silence — yet they're incredibly frightening. They also happen to be carrying unusually long scissors.

As they stand there without moving in the darkness, anyone watching Jordan Peele's new film, Us, can already predict one thing: The massacre is about to begin.

The Wilsons are a typical middle-class African-American family of four (portrayed by Winston Duke, Lupita Nyong'o, Evan Alex and Shahadi Wright Joseph). The creepy people standing in front of their house look uncannily like them. To be more precise, they are the doppelgangers of each member of the Wilson family. Jordan Peele didn't need spooky makeup to create chilling characters: The same actors play the mirror version of themselves — and that's horror in itself.

Read more: Use spiders, use the dark: Why horror films and the Walking Dead are good for you

Film still from 'Us' - Man with baseball bat and girl with golf club (Universal Pictures)

Father (Winston Duke) and daughter (Shahadi Wright Joseph) are ready to defend themselves

Star filmmaker revealed with Get Out

Born in New York City in 1979, Jordan Peele is one of the hottest new talents in US cinema. The filmmaker made his sensational directorial debut at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2017 with Get Out, which tells the story of a young black man visiting his white girlfriend's parents; the awkward meeting spirals into horror and violence.

Get Out elegantly combines elements of horror and satire while going beyond the tropes of the horror genre to criticize racism. His social commentary doesn't simply oppose good and bad, or black and white with one another. Instead it subtly tackles the issue. "This film is how racism feels," the film's star, Daniel Kaluuya, told the Los Angeles Times newspaper upon its release last year. "You get paranoid and you can't talk about it. You can't voice it. No one around you gets it, so you can't speak about it."

Read more: What Hollywood movies do to perpetuate racial stereotypes

Jordan Peele holding an Oscar (Reuters/M. Blake)

Jordan Peele winning the Oscar for best original screenplay for 'Get Out'

After its premiere at the Sundance Festival, Get Out went on to become a box-office hit: The $5-million (€4.4 million) production earned over $250 million — a clearly profitable success. The filmmaker also won an Oscar for best original screenplay, the first African-American screenwriter to win the award.

Already an influential figure in the US 

Prior to directing Get Out, Peele had more than 50 acting credits to his name, including in the 2008 mini-series Obama, in which he had the lead role of the former US president. Peele had also worked as a producer and narrator.

From 2012 to 2015, he hosted the sketch comedy TV series Key & Peele, which aired on Comedy Central and focused on US pop culture, ethnic stereotypes and race relations. Peele and his co-host, Keegan-Michael Key, made it onto Time magazine's list of 100 most influential people of 2014. But it was Get Out that brought him worldwide attention.

Film Still 'Us' - a frightened child (Universal Pictures)

'Us' offers magnificent imagery while following the conventional structure of the horror genre

An unsustainable American Dream

Now Peele's second feature film is one of the most highly anticipated works of the year. This time around, the director offers a true horror film, which features less of the satirical moments that characterized Get Out.

Us is also masterfully directed, but in a much more conventional and less enigmatic style. The film also offers a social commentary, but it's way more subtle than in Peele's previous work. "It's important to me that we can tell black stories without it being about race," Peele told Rolling Stone magazine. 

While Us is not directly a film about race, it subverts the established codes of the horror-thriller genre, where black characters are usually the first to fall. "Jordan takes a revolutionary position, making the American dream the central victim of the film instead of the people of color," says lead actor Winston Duke. 

"The film is about an American family trying to live the perfect American dream, and then realizing that the American dream is perilous, insecure and unsustainable," adds Duke, who also starred in Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War in 2018.

Read more: How white is Hollywood?

Film still Lupita Nyong'o in 'Us' (Universal Pictures)

Lupita Nyong'o plays in 'Us' a mother with a dark past

You are your own worst enemy 

"The idea for this movie came from a deep-seated fear in doppelgangers," Peele says. "I love doppelganger mythologies and the movies that have dealt with them, and I wanted to make my offering to that pantheon of 'evil-double' films." 

"I was drawn to this idea that we are our own worst enemy. That's something we all know intrinsically, but it's a truth we tend to bury," adds the filmmaker. "We blame the outsider, we blame 'the other.' In this movie, the monster has our faces."

Variety magazine's review of the film also describes Us as "a visual allegory for the darker aspects of our own socialization — which, if the film were more successful in its final stretch, would force us to confront the monsters within each of us."

While reviews are generally positive, in most cases critics' enthusiasm is curbed by the fact that Us does not live up to Get Out. But as Vulture magazine writes, "Once you get over the disappointment that Peele's second feature, Us, isn't as trim or impish in its satire as his marvelous debut, Get Out, you can settle back and salute what it is: the most inspiring kind of miss."

"So much here to love," it adds. 

It's now up to moviegoers to decide for themselves how they feel about Jordan Peele's new movie. Us is released in Germany on March 21 and day later in North America.

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