Co-written by Cole Rothacker.
MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW.
Seldom do horror movies achieve near-instant phenomenon status upon their release, but Jordan Peele has managed to accomplish this feat twice. Peele, the mastermind behind the Twilight Zone reboot, first scored big with his debut feature Get Out, and in March 2019, his sophomore effort, Us - a complex and satirical nightmare about identity, duality, classism, and existential dread - earned the biggest opening weekend for an original horror film of all time. Its bevy of positive reviews gave Us a "certified fresh" score at Rotten Tomatoes before the film even hit theaters, with some critics ranking it one of the best horror movies of all time.
As heady as the themes in Jordan Peele's Us can be, the former Key & Peele star injects plenty of nerd fodder into his film. He outlined in early interviews 10 movies that he felt had a "shared language" with Us: Dead Again, The Shining, The Babadook, It Follows, A Tale of Two Sisters, The Birds, Funny Games, Martyrs, Let the Right One In, and The Sixth Sense. The film does indeed feature numerous homages to these pictures, as well as visual and narrative nods to several other classic horror and non-horror films. Let's take a look at all the Us movie references and how they inform the film's plot, characters, and themes.
Both Jennifer Kent's debut feature, The Babadook, and Jordan Peele's Us feature mothers slowly transforming into more animalistic and vicious figures as the narrative progresses. In Kent's film, this transformation occurs by way of unchecked grief and trauma, turning the protagonist, Amelia (Essie Davis), from a frazzled woman at her wit's end to a knife-wielding maniac possessed by the titular boogie man.
In Peele's case, his main character, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong'o), grows more and more vicious as she protects her family against the malicious Tethered, so much so that, in one key scene, her son Jason (Evan Alex) can't tell whether Adelaide is his real mother or her doppelgänger, Red. Of course, it turns out Adelaide has been one of the Tethered all along, a chilling ending that stands in stark contrast to the happier denouement of The Babadook.15765Is this a surprising reference?
A VHS copy of the 1984 B-movie gem C.H.U.D. appears in the opening scene of Us. Its title is an acronym for Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers, and it involves mutant creatures emerging from the sewers beneath the streets of New York City and going after the humans above.
While the Tethered are not cannibals, nor are they mutants, their secret existence beneath the surface of civilization and their uprising mirror the events of C.H.U.D. quite closely. Characters in Us even mention the Tethered are coming up from sewers at one point in the film.8021Is this a surprising reference?
The young boy in Us is named Jason, and Jason feels braver when he wears a vacuform werewolf mask. Whenever Jason dispatches one of the Tethered, he has to put on his mask because covering his true face helps him cope with his actions. Jason's doppelgänger, Pluto (named for the Roman god of the underworld), also wears a mask, though his is made of cloth and conceals a disfigurement. Pluto does not speak, but instead makes animalistic grunts and can be quite temperamental when provoked.
If this all sounds familiar, that's because the combined situations of the two boys in Us form the basic origin story of '80s slasher icon Jason Voorhees, as first established in Friday The 13th Part 2. If Voorhees didn't already appear to be an obvious influence, the boys' mothers, Adelaide and Red, are both willing to do whatever it takes to protect their sons, which echoes the actions of Pamela Voorhees, Jason's demented mother.7720Is this a surprising reference?
In his article for The Hollywood Reporter analyzing the Us trailer, Richard Newby discussed the various films writer/director Jordan Peele mentioned as having a "shared language" with his movie. One title, in particular, stood out to Newby, who wrote, "Kenneth Branagh’s Dead Again may seem like a left-field choice, but its story of a woman with missing memories may play significantly on Us’ central mystery and apparent flashback scenes."
Newby's comments were, of course, only speculative, as his article appeared before the film's release. Missing memories may indeed play a part in Peele's film, however, since it isn't entirely clear whether Adelaide is conscious of her status as one of the Tethered throughout the entire narrative, or whether she remembers her swapping places with the "real" Adelaide, the character that became Red, only in the last minutes few minutes of the movie.
The Kenneth Branagh movie also plays with the concept of doubles, or doppelgängers, in the form of past lives and uncanny resemblances between seemingly unconnected characters. Furthermore, both Us and the film feature the heavy use of scissors as tools of destruction.7824Is this a surprising reference?