AUSTIN, Texas — When the final credits on his newest film finished rolling at the premiere of Us on Friday night, director Jordan Peele took the stage at the Paramount Theatre and made an assessment.
“I’m looking out on a sea of faces going, ‘Da f—?’ ” Peele said of approximately 1,200 South By Southwest festival attendees staring back at him.
Well, yes. Once again, Peele, who won an Academy Award for best original screenplay for Get Out, has left an audience scintillated, confounded and in need of hours of conversation + Googling to process his latest creation, which lands in theaters March 22.
The buzz surrounding Us is difficult to overstate. An hour before the movie’s scheduled 6:30 p.m. start time here, the line snaked down one block, back up it, across an intersection to the end of the opposite block, and back up that one too. Even Peele’s leading lady, the emotionally malleable — and, when needed, insanely fearsome — Lupita Nyong’o, was enraptured by the scary way Peele’s brain works. Saturday, during a conversation with BuzzFeed’s Ashley C. Ford for the site’s Profile series, Nyong’o, a Yale-trained Oscar winner, said she’d seen Get Out five times in the theater while she was filming Black Panther. She was ready to say yes to being in Peele’s next project simply based off the genius of Get Out.
I waited, along with the vast majority of the night’s audience, for hours on the sidewalks of Austin for a chance to see Peele’s story about the Wilsons, an ordinary family on vacation in Santa Cruz, California. The Wilsons encounter a creepy doppelgänger family standing in their driveway one night, and things pretty much go left from there. Nyong’o plays the family matriarch, Adelaide, and Winston Duke, the breakout heartthrob of Black Panther, plays her husband, Gabe. Newcomers Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex play the couple’s children, Zora and Jason. The actors all play their red-clad, scissor-wielding doubles as well. (I’m ceasing discussion of the film’s details here to avoid spoilers.) Peele and the cast took questions for about 15 minutes after the film ended.
“On the days when they played the red family, it was a different vibe,” Peele said of the atmosphere on the Us set. “Lupita scared the s— outta me!”
Peele has resurrected a respect for horror not seen since Alfred Hitchcock because he refuses to condescend to his audience or concede that horror must mean a film is full of schlock and cheap thrills.
“My favorite thing is the idea that people will leave ready to have a conversation with whoever they’re with. This is a film that I designed. 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,” he said during Friday night’s post-film Q&A. “… This movie is about this country. When I decided to write this movie, I was stricken by 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 and 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 out pointing the finger, and I wanted to suggest that the monster we really need to look at, maybe the evil, is us.
“People love when you treat them like they’re as smart as they are,” Peele said of his work. “I think, far too often, I see movies that presume an audience is dumb. I wanted to presume an audience has the tools to find these things and find these connections and then talk about it and find greater meaning and deeper meaning, and then come back and watch it again.”