‘Us’ and Them: Why Jordan Peele Is the New Master of Suspense

Without much warning, the writer-director of ‘Get Out’ has taken on a key role in the Hollywood hierarchy. But the burden it brings is heavy.

The ending of Us is twisty, unsettling, and oddly shaped. I won’t spoil the surprise, though it demands that viewers retrace and reconsider the film’s narrative structure. Like any worthy brain-bender, it insists upon a rewatch. It’s an audacious choice with clear influences: a Twilight Zone conclusion—an Aha! followed instantly by a Wait, what?—mixed with the despairing and morbidly clever finish of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller.

If Jordan Peele’s first film, Get Out, signaled the arrival of a singular new voice in genre-driven social satire, his new movie Us declares him something more straightforward: a master of suspense. He makes movies that feel modern, persistent, and wracked with unease—movies that are of a time, and that we will one day use to describe that time. Peele isn’t the first to claim this mantle. Hitchock was the originator, but Rod Serling, John Carpenter, Brian De Palma, Wes Craven, Guillermo del Toro, and M. Night Shyamalan have staked a claim to the title in the past. It’s a vital but burdensome role in the popular imagination. On the one hand, every new release is an event. On the other hand, every new release has to be an event.

Us is the most compelling and singular major studio release of the year so far—and it’s effective as both disquieting horror and subversive comedy. Whether it works as a grand statement about life in this country is more likely to stoke debate. One thing the film cannot do is offer the surprise of Get Out. When it was released in February 2017, Peele was known primarily as a sketch comedy writer and performer. The phenomenon of Get Out was utterly unpredictable—$255 million at the box office on a $5 million budget, to go with the instantaneous induction of several ideas into the pop cultural phrasebook: The Sunken Place. No, no, no, no, no, no. The spoon and the teacup. Rose, gimme those keys! It became idiomatic—a movie with a living history.

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Also see:

Jordan Peele on ‘Us’

Box Office: Jordan Peele’s ‘Us’ Nabs $7.4 Million on Thursday Night

 

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