Us director Jordan Peele on influences, interpretations and being empowered by horror

Director Jordan Peele talks Us, dissecting the story and feeling empowered through surviving horror films

After the impressive box office performance given by Jordan Peele’s first film Get Out in 2017, it’s only natural that the writer/director’s latest, doppelgänger horror Us starring Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke, has also effortlessly pulled in the crowds during its first week. But that’s probably the only thing about the film that hasn’t surprised us.

We talk to Peele himself to find out more about Us‘s influences, its takeaway, and why it’s open to interpretation…

SciFiNow: Where did the idea for Us initially come from?

Jordan Peele: It came from really the realisation that I think a certain introspection was lacking in the world. Certainly in the States, we’ve entered an era that is particularly xenophobic and particularly blame oriented, and I wanted to make a movie that, at the very least, addresses this idea that we are our own worst enemies and we don’t need to look outside of ourselves to find the truest threat to ourselves. So that’s kind of what I wanted to say, and then the imagery flowed out of that.

Could you talk about some of the films that influenced Us?

You know, the boring answer is every film I’ve ever seen, but the more interesting one: I’ll start by talking about auteurs and directors that influenced me. Romero, Craven, Kubrick, Spielberg, Hitchcock… I think there’s something about Night Of The Living Dead, which in different ways influenced Get Out, but the way that movie went about making a social message was a little bit more embedded in the imagery and a little bit more allegorical than, say, my last film. That was kind of a thrilling idea to me, to be able to do something that’s that allegorical. I was also very influenced by The Twilight Zone. There’s a Twilight Zone episode called ‘Mirror Image’ in which a woman sees a doppelgänger of herself, and at the end of the episode the man that’s helping her also sees his doppelgänger. I just remember that giving me a little tip of a greater mythology. It really scared me, and so I wanted to make my own entry into the genre of doppelgänger horror.

Peele on the set of Us | Claudette Barius – © Universal Pictures

You’ve been known for comedy for years, but now people are starting to associate you more with horror. What’s your relationship with the genre? 

It’s hard to say why I love it so much. I think as I grew up, I was frankly scared of horror movies, and scared in general: scared of the dark, scared of the water, [laughs] you know, scared of things. And horror movies over time became my way of facing my fears. I would also feel empowered after withstanding a very good horror movie and enjoying a horror movie. When I got into comedy, which of course was and still is a passion to an extent, my love of horror sort of went unaddressed. [In Key And Peele], you can see the horror influence dying to get out. It rears its head in many of the sketches. Eight years ago, I made the conscious decision that it was time for me to move and consider my truest passion, which is horror. Of course, there’s a very close proximity between horror and comedy.

What are you most hoping people will take away from Us?

As always, first and foremost, I hope that they have a cinematic experience with the group of people that they go and see the movie with, and that it’s a fun cinematic experience. I think I’ve failed if it’s not entertaining. And then after that, I hope people discuss and debate what the movie is about, and what everything means. I [was] very encouraged and grateful just seeing the way people [were] dissecting the trailer online, trying to figure it out. I think I have very intelligent fans, really. I think there’s a lot of smart people on the case, and I’m fascinated to see what people pull from it, and love to watch it expand with people making art about it. 

So have you intended it to be open to interpretation?

Yes. Let’s put it this way: I wouldn’t devalue anyone’s interpretation of the film. I think part of what this project is is a bit of Rorschach effect. It’s about ourselves. It’s about me, it’s about the audience, it’s about every individual that watches is. I think how they digest the movie is unique to everybody, and that’s probably what’s most exciting for me about this. That being said, I think what this means to me is very clear. I’m interested to see what people think I’m saying, and I’m interested to see what it means to them.

Us is in cinemas now. Get all the latest horror news with every issue of SciFiNow.