Jordan Peele Wanted To Capture The Feel Of Two Alfred Hitchcock Classics In Us

It's tempting to compare promising young directors to canonical ones. If they have overlapping styles/genre preferences, then calling a director "the next X" makes for convenient shorthand. However, this is facile criticism. For one, it's not useful for appreciating these artists on their own merits, because it implies all they can ever amount to is an imitator. By putting blossoming artists in the shadows of titans, you also set them up to experience backlash. Newsweek called M. Night Shyamalan "The Next Spielberg" in 2002 instead ironically heralded his career downturn in the late aughts/early '10s.

Jordan Peele is the latest to experience this. Now three for three in making horror/suspense films, he's been compared to the original master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. In Variety's review of "Nope," the headline called Peele "Our Modern Day Hitchcock." If you've read /Film's own writing on "Nope" (courtesy Josh Spiegel), or just laid eyes on it yourself, you'll know it's a great film. Still, "the next Hitchcock" can't help but be reductive praise.

Peele has mixed thoughts on the comparison. Interviewed by BackStageOL in 2019, he said: "[Hitchcock's] kind of a creep," but conceded that "on an artistic level, I love being compared to the man who brought me 'Psycho,' 'The Birds,' 'Rear Window,' 'Vertigo.'" Peele pointed out the challenge of following in great artists' footsteps; emulating their talent, not their behavior.

Indeed, two of the Hitchcock films that Peele name-dropped were guiding influences on his second film, "Us."


Peele told BackStageOL that he's been scared by doppelgängers since childhood, thanks to "The Twilight Zone" episode "Mirror Image." He considered doppelgängers to be both "well-trodden and under-explored" on film, so he decided his spin on the idea would be a whole family of doppelgängers:

"When I got the idea of a doppelgänger family, I knew I had something that was gonna forge new ground in the pantheon of doppelgänger tales. If you see a family of four that looks like your own standing outside your house, that is an iconic horror image because of the questions that are unanswered. How? What? Where did they come from? What do they want?"

Hitchcock's most lauded doppelgänger movie is "Vertigo." In it, private eye Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart) falls for a woman he's been hired to follow, the possibly possessed Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak). After Madeleine dies, Scottie meets Judy (Novak again) and tries to mold her into the woman he knew. Despite allusions in the first half, "Vertigo" turns out to be mundane, not supernatural. Judy was always the "Madeleine" who Scottie knew — she was in on a complicated plot by Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) to kill his wife. Judy is a doppelgänger of Madeleine, but Scottie only ever knew the doppelgänger.

"Us" has a similar twist. The lead Adelaide (Lupita Nyong'o) is actually the doppelgänger, or "tethered," who replaced her original self in childhood. The tethered Adelaide, or "Red," was actually the real deal. Like in "Vertigo," our sense of who's who is thrown on its head.

The influence of Hitchcock on "Us" doesn't end there. According to Peele, he also looked to "Vertigo" in bringing the setting of "Us" to life.

NorCal horror

"Vertigo" is set in San Francisco, and even the detours from the city are still unmistakably California, from a forest of redwood trees to the Mission San Juan Bautista. "Us" is set about 70 miles south in Santa Cruz. Speaking to Little White Lies, Peele mentioned that Hitchcock's depiction of Northern California shaped his own.

"The Hitchcock aesthetic and his sort of study of place in the Bay Area is fairly unique in film. I wanted not only to revisit that but put a black family in the center of it. I think I often ask myself, 'what if Hitchcock worked with black actors?' Those are my favorite movies that have never been made."

In the interview, Peele cites Hitchcock's other Northern California horror story "The Birds." Peele calls the movie, about a world where the birds begin attacking people for no apparent reason, "the greatest invasion movie of all time." The horror of "Us," normalcy disturbed by terrifying yet familiar invaders, strikes a similar chord. The endings of both films are similar too. In "The Birds," the main characters drive off into uncertainty, surrounded by birds. "Us" pans out to an overhead shot of tethered, numbering in the thousands, standing in a row with their hands linked across America.

By comparing himself to Hitchcock, Peele also illuminates the difference between them. He's not just making Hitchcock movies for the 21st century, he's transmuting both his artistic influences and lived experience into something new.