In his latest film, the comedian turned director continues to reinvent how the genre uses fear to comment on humanity’s evil.
This story contains mild spoilers for the film Us.
It’s perhaps the most indelible image in cinema: Janet Leigh’s scream, her open mouth signaling unmistakable terror, in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Taken from the movie’s famous shower scene, the shot is now virtually synonymous with the horror genre. There are other elements that establish the gravitas of Hitchcock’s crown-jewel sequence—the shocking and graphic death early in the film, the reveal of Norman Bates’s slashing, the implied nudity and risqué setup in the running shower—but they are best crystallized in that one, almost audible, still.
In his recent run as a bona fide heir to Hitchcock, the comedian and filmmaker Jordan Peele has given the world a potential successor to Leigh’s scream: a black face, skin humidified and reflective, two bulging and bloodshot eyes, and the streaks of two tears. The face belonged to Daniel Kaluuya in Peele’s 2017 Oscar-winning work Get Out, and lives on in Lupita Nyong’o’s performance in the director’s new movie, Us. That silent expression of fear is now a trademark of Peele’s, and a visceral reminder of what he adds to the game. The very act of incorporating black actors and black creators turns horror inside out, giving the genre new dimensions and new power as social commentary.