Jordan Peele Crafts A New American Nightmare Called “Us”

Academy Award winner Jordan Peele (Get Out) may soon be two-time Academy Award winner Jordan Peele. Us—written, directed, and produced by Peele—arrives in May and is yet another original, socially conscious nightmare from the visionary creative.

Set in present day along the iconic Northern California coastline, the film, the first solo production for Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions, stars Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o as Adelaide Wilson, a woman returning to her beachside childhood home with her husband, Gabe (Winston Duke, Black Panther), and their two children, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex), for the perfect summer getaway.

The story anchors around Adelaide, who, as a child in 1986, wanders from her parents on the Santa Cruz Boardwalk and finds herself in Vision Quest, a dark house funhouse hall of mirrors. Alone, young Adelaide sees what at first seems to be her reflection but is in fact a hostile doppelgänger of herself. Though she gets away, she is haunted, having no words to explain what she has experienced, and no one to understand or believe it either. Having buried the memory, adult Adelaide returns to Santa Cruz with her family, where it is revealed her past will not let her go.

Her family is threatened by doppelgängers of themselves, known collectively as “The Tethered,” who can anticipate thoughts, feelings, and actions of the Wilsons, though they are not exact duplicates. The Tethered are unique characters themselves, with thoughts, emotions, and behaviors of their own.

“The idea for this movie came from a deep-seated fear in doppelgängers,” Peele says. “I love doppelgänger 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. We blame the outsider, we blame ‘the other.’ In this movie, the monster has our faces.”

Ian Cooper, producer and creative director of Monkeypaw Productions, loves the layers to the film. “On the surface, it’s a terrifying thriller, and you can watch it that way and enjoy it, but beneath that, it’s about how the things we think we’ve gotten away with come back to haunt us. And beneath that, it’s about how, in American culture, we often claim that ‘the other,’ some group outside of ourselves, is the problem. With this script, Jordan has given us an ‘other’ that is a terrifying force to be reckoned with, and it is ourselves.”

Culture played such a central role in the film that actor Winston Duke, who plays Gabe Wilson, sees it having a distinct life its own. “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. I look at the American dream as another character in this film that succumbs to the dangers of the horror-thriller genre and becomes a hapless victim. Whereas audiences typically experience black characters as the first casualties of the plot, Jordan take a revolutionary position, making the American dream the central victim of the film instead of the people of color.”

The film sheds a light on race, but rather than taking aim with the intense beam of the sun, this time Peele is tactical with a flashlight. “I heard an early version of this story from Jordan while we were working together on Get Out,” says producer Sean McKittrick. “To me, it is even more ambitious and intellectual than Get Out was. It’s mind-blowing, thought-provoking and a lot more terrifying, in the traditional horror sense… It’s about a family facing a dark version of themselves and having to fight for their own survival. The themes are more about what we’ve become as a country and involve a kind of karmic retribution for how we’re treating each other.

Despite the heaviness of the film, or perhaps because of it, you can expect some humorous moments from Peele as well. “Horror and comedy are both great ways of exposing how we feel about things,” Peele says. “That’s what a catharsis is to me, when you have an emotional reaction watching a film and then you’re left to ask yourself, ‘What was that about? Why did I react that way? Why did I laugh? Why did I scream? Why did I cheer?’ One of the reasons I love genre films is because they push these visceral, involuntary reactions that can ultimately teach you something about yourself, if you want to look.”

Take a look for yourself, May 22.