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During the summer of ‘98, my older sister would go to the library every week and rent a stack of horror flicks—it was the only place that didn’t check ID on R-rated movies. I was nine, and didn’t have anything better to do than look on.
I would often leave the room about 20 minutes into the movie, but I still saw enough to haunt me for days and nights.
My sister and I watched all the classic horror films when I was way too young. I knew the genre wasn’t for me, but I tried to act like the gore, exorcisms, and chills didn’t faze me. I did take a break from the genre, until some friends pressured me into watching The Ring when I was 13. I had to sleep with my parents for a week.
A fragile thing
Horror movies taught me that the mind is a fragile thing—I was frightened at how easily it could turn on me. I didn’t welcome staring at the red numbers on my clock at 4am, paranoid that someone was about to murder me. I vowed to never watch a horror film again. I didn't want to be reminded of the evil in human nature and I definitely didn’t want to see it on the big screen.
Years later, being a big Jordan Peele fan, I saw a Get Out trailer and knew it would be a masterpiece. It turned out to be some of the best commentary on racism that I had ever seen, and I knew I couldn’t miss Peele’s new thriller, Us. Luckily, I could count on writer/director Peele to layer comedy with horror to take the edge off.
Your worst enemy
Us follows your average American family on vacation to Santa Cruz, where four strangers show up one night, hands clasped in eerie silhouettes. We quickly learn they’re the family’s sinister doppelgangers, on a mission to kill them.
I left the movie theater thinking about duality, like human nature’s ever-present need to balance good and evil. Never mind the villains that roam the earth—I have enough trouble battling my own inner demons.
Every facet of my personality wants its time in the sun. Am I going to be kind today? Impatient? Rude? Compassionate? Insecure? Confident? Your inner demons can be as strong as you let them be. Ultimately, you might be your own worst enemy.
Sometimes I feel powerless in the face of cruelty and negativity. And it can bring an adrenaline rush to be a jerk; to talk crap on people you don’t like; to be unapologetic about your thoughts and actions—no matter how damaging.
I’ll never forget the time I was irritated with my best friend and texted a nasty message about her to another friend. Moments later, I realized that I had accidentally sent that text directly to my best friend. She called me, wanting an explanation, and I started to cry from shame, that I could be so cruel about one of my favorite people. I didn’t want to be judgmental, stubborn, and self-righteous. The longer you ignore your demons, the stronger they get. I try my best to confront them while I still have a chance.
The family in Us must abandon all mercy to combat their demons. It can be easy to fool yourself into thinking the problem is everyone else, when it is usually your own shadow self.
Nature or choice?
People access their dark side in different ways. Some people suppress it, ashamed. Some thrive on their dark side in positions of power, capitalizing on the goodness of others. Some just listen to Marilyn Manson in the comfort of their homes.
The person who scares me more than anyone in the world is myself. What if I never reach my full potential, giving in to the side of me that always wants to cop out? There are sides of my personality that can keep me up at night and consume me: obsessive, self-absorbed, negligent. Sometimes my bad side lies dormant, while other times it comes alive through actions and decisions. I often make excuses for rotten behavior—I was tired, hungry, or stressed. But ultimately, my choices and actions are a reflection of my character.
Is letting the darker side of me win in any given moment more than just my nature? Is it laziness? It takes a lot of work and energy to be a “good” person, to choose positivity and love. Trying to always be “good” is an exhausting full-time job.
Look in the mirror
Good and evil can’t exist without each other. When you look in the mirror, what kind of person do you see? Do you accept your faults as human nature, or do you question them, push and prod them, until they lose power in your being? What are the perimeters of your own mind?
I decorated my college bedroom walls with my favorite lyrics from the band Muse: “I’ve had recurring nightmares that I was loved for who I am, and missed the opportunity to be a better man.” I wanted a daily reminder that I have a choice in this lifelong battle.
I think I was scared watching horror films as a kid because I was scared of myself. Scared of not being brave enough to watch until the ending, scared that I would need someone else to guide me back to safety. But now I know that pain and fear are temporary emotions, and that my mind is strong enough to combat them. Sure, I had moments after watching Us where I looked out the window and saw my evil twin running through the trees. But my coping mechanisms have improved. I can talk myself back to a reality I want to live in, not the dark one inside my head.
What, When, Where
Us. Written and directed by Jordan Peele. Philadelphia area showtimes.
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