AUSTIN, Tex. — When Jordan Peele took the stage to present the world premiere of his new horror film, “Us,” at South by Southwest, he had jokes.
“What if I showed four episodes of ‘This Is Us’ in a row, with no explanation?” he asked. And he gave a shout-out to another film that brought him to the festival three years ago. “If you haven’t seen ‘Keanu,’ go see it. It’s a must-see.”
But back to “Us,” the follow-up to Peele’s Oscar-winning, culture-galvanizing “Get Out.” Expectations have been high for “Us” since the trailer dropped on Christmas Day and raised questions around the web. What’s up with the family that seems to be terrorized by creepy doppelgängers? Why the scissors? How much does the 1995 Luniz track “I Got 5 on It” really factor in?
Now, the biggest question to arise after its first public screening is: Does “Us” live up to the hype? I won’t give away the plot, but based on the electrified reaction Friday night in the packed Paramount Theater, signs are pointing to yes.
SXSW moviegoers can be more enthusiastic than many; they’re eager for a great night out. And Peele seems to be particularly good at generating audience response. “Get Out” mixed humor and chills, and in “Us,” Peele’s comedy roots are even more apparent. At Friday’s screening, the crowd was laughing heartily one moment, screaming the next and cheering soon after.
Lupita Nyong’o, one of the film’s stars, on the red carpet.
CreditMatt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for SXS
But Peele wants to leave audiences wondering as well. During a Q. and A. after the screening, he said, “My favorite thing is the idea that people will leave ready to have a conversation with whoever they’re with.” He continued, “I also wanted to design a film that’s very personal for every individual.”
Early critical responses have been positive, while grappling with the movie’s meaning.
The Hollywood Reporter wrote, “Maybe every happy ending is somebody else’s catastrophe, and therefore, no horror film is ever really over.”
In its review, Variety said the movie trades “on some uncanny combination of Peele’s imagination and our own to suggest a horror infinitely larger and more insidious than the film is capable of representing.”
And Indiewire praised Peele’s “ability to explore how past cultural events can take ominous new dimensions in the present.”
The rest of America can weigh in when the movie opens in theaters March 22.