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.
Eagle-eyed horror fans probably noticed the boardwalk amusement park in Us looked familiar and were able to quickly ascertain it was the same location used in the 1987 vampire classic The Lost Boys. But more than this, the Joel Schumacher-directed film actually makes a sort-of cameo in Us.
Us Writer/director Jordan Peele explained the sneaky reference to Uproxx:
It’s the same beach, it’s the same amusement park. And it’s even 1986... there is a reference to The Lost Boys shooting by the carousel. They’re walking down the Santa Monica boardwalk and the mother says, "You know they’re shooting a movie over there by the carousel."
That's right - while young Adelaide endures her bickering parents and ultimately finds her sinister double, Red, in a hall of mirrors, Schumacher and company - including Coreys Feldman and Haim - are busy making The Lost Boys nearby.
In Us's first scene, a flashback set in 1986, we see several VHS tapes on the media shelf of Adelaide's childhood home. One video is the perennial '80s kid favorite The Goonies. While an expert choice for set dressing given the film's popularity, the placement of this tape is also a clever hint at the plot to come. The Goonies involves a group of kids traversing miles of underground tunnels and passages in hopes of solving the mystery of One-Eyed Willie's missing gold.
Fittingly, Us also features mysterious, labyrinthine tunnels, though instead of treasure at the end of the maze, protagonist Adelaide only finds pain, suffering, and a diabolical plot of world domination.
Also, as Jordan Peele has noted, he borrowed one of the most memorable lines from The Goonies: "It's our time now."
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.
The Sixth Sense features perhaps the most famous twist ending in all of cinema, the reveal that Bruce Willis's character, Malcolm Crowe, is one of the ghosts little Cole (Haley Joel Osmet) can see throughout the narrative. Us also features a twist, that the seemingly heroic Adelaide was one of the villains all along, the "evil twin," if you will.
In both cases, the plot reveals shed new light on our understanding of the characters and their narrative arcs. In the case of M. Night Shyamalan's film, the twist, while shocking, is also healing and cathartic for Malcolm, who can finally move on to the afterlife proper; in Jordan Peele's film, the twist is far more foreboding and sinister.