Watching Jordan Peele’s film with zero expectations — and zero desire to decipher its plot — make for a really enjoyable cinematic experience.
“Very important for me was to have a black family at the center of a horror film…it’s also important to note, unlike Get Out, Us is not about race.” In the moments following the premier of the trailer for his latest film called Us, director Jordan Peele belabored a point that I’m sure he knew would dog him and the cast throughout the entire press run leading up to the movie’s release. “[Us] is instead about something that I feel has become an undeniable truth. And that is the simple fact that we are our own worst enemies.”
He — alongside actors Lupita N’yongo and Winston Duke — left Twitter aflame with theories about their new film, striking in that it featured a Black family, something absent in most — if not, all — commercial horror films.
Us is Peele’s second feature film, following the extraordinary film Get Out, a box-office and critical success which led Peele to win an Oscar for ‘Best Original Screenplay’. Get Out’s racial overtures — a story about the snatching of Black bodies to create White pseudo-zombies — helped to label Peele as a director keen to use the horror/thriller genre to mask social commentary. While not unique to the genre itself, Peele’s vantage point as a Black man and his casting of a Black male lead — and now an all-Black family in Us — made the artistic direction of his films even more potent. Every creative decision wasn’t just to thrill — it lead you to think.
And think we did. Reddit threads and comment sections went to work deciphering every one of Peele’s creative choices. Peele even humored us all by attending a college course about Get Out and answering fan theories via Vanity Fair. So when the Us trailer hit the internet Christmas Day of last year, unexpectedly many went neck-deep into theorizing the racial themes of the film. And while Peele explicitly made clear that the film would not be a social commentary-at-large about race, that didn’t stop Twitter et al from injecting racial commentary into the film (“double consciousness”, Black bodies-in-Suburbia, etc.) So without surprise, the first reviews and critical analyses of the film went in that direction.
Or any deep direction, to be frank. From climate change to gentrification to slavery and genocide to Biblical otherness, critics went to town trying to figure out Peele’s messaging behind his creative intent. So much that stretches made to find the deeper meaning of the film left me to the point of laughter. What I found even more hilarious? Viewers failing to like ‘Us’ because it didn’t make sense. Or rather that their brains ran on such a high gear while watching this film that it felt like a failure for that work to seemingly go to waste when Adelaide (N’yongo) survives. Or dies? That twist blew my mind.
What made Us thoroughly enjoyable came when I suspended reality. It wasn’t about trying to understand where “Hands Across America” fit into the plot-at-large or the significance of bunnies or the cultural cues behind NWA’s “Fuck The Police” blasting inside of a house full of dead White bodies. I found more fun giggling at Gabe Wilson (Duke) manspreading on a bed too small for himself. I became a proud parent watching the Wilson kids (Zora and Jason, played by Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex) manipulate and kill their doppelgangers. I loved watching a Black family — as a Black person who loves horror films — f*ck some shit up.
To be clear, I appreciate the varying interpretations of Us. Meaningful art ignites the mind. Viewers failing to enjoy the film because they cannot figure out Peele’s messaging? Troubling. The gift of what happened on the internet after post-Get Out came when we came back to realize the minutia, the cool ways Peele injected pop culture and identity politics into the film in such a nuanced way.
The curse? Coming into Us expecting to catch every clue, to figure out Peele’s intention behind those VHS tapes in Adelaide’s living room or the meaning behind “tunnels”. Walking into the film as Reddit threads with a heartbeat but leaving as confused bodies who spent 120 or so minutes waxing their brains into mush only to miss the most important point of the film: to be entertained.