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Jordan Peele’s Us

Through guilt and greed

Peele’s most intriguing film: Us is about the horror we create ourselves.

Written by


Sep 10, 2022

© Universal Pictures

The Wilson family goes on a trip to the California coast. As we have learned from horror films over the years, we accompany banal conversations and the peaceful calm before the storm. In this case, the storm turns out to be the family's mysterious bloodthirsty doppelganger.

The perception of horror films is generally reduced to the factors of scariness and thrill. Either by the quality of brutality, the frequency of jump scares or the success in creating fear.

Opposed to reality, these things are associated with enjoyment in films. The thrill of being scared, the spectacle of brutality, the excitement of being frightened. It’s a cabinet of horrors for an entrance fee or, in modern times, a James Wan film. We enter this artificial and fantastic world and the horror leaves us as soon as we leave the cabinet. We enter them to escape the real horror of our existence.

But the real horror is right there in our very lives. Sometimes so imperceptible that we cannot perceive them. Sometimes so cruel that we want to suppress them with everything we have. Genre limitations and the corresponding marketing mechanisms oppose the potrayals of those things. For this reason, this kind of horror can be found in films that do not carry the horror label, such as Haneke's Amour, which relentlessly paints a portrait of the fear of mortality and death.

In rare cases, this horror also comes across in the horror genre itself. Recently, directors such as Ari Aster or Jordan Peele have attained it. Peele, as before in Get Out, succeeds in using the skeleton of the horror genre to accommodate real horror in an entertainment construct. He plays with the conventions of the genre, creating a thoroughly contrasting and oppressive experience between mainstream horror and the visibilisation of mundane social horror.

© Universal Pictures

“[Peele] plays with the conventions of the genre”

The Horror Made by Us

Sometimes unsubtle and sometimes with unexpectedly placed humour, Peele manages to create a metaphor for social inequality and injustice that sows doubt into the human condition, making our own cruelty evident.

The doppelgänger in this film are the consequences we bear and ignore in order not to endanger our self-image. What is fascinating about Us is the manifestation of the consequence that no longer accepts, but seeks vengeance. In reality, we do not suffer any immediate consequences. The Doppelgänger are not providing any answers, they are raising questions from different perspectives.

Peele circles around these questions, while also successfully using conventions of survival horror to engage on multiple layers and in order to reach a wider audience who might not typically be accessible to it otherwise.

At the heart of true horror, the question is not whether the protagonists escape the horror, but whether we do and Peele accomplishes this question remarkably well.

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