The following contains significant spoilers for Us.
Based on the weekend’s box office results, it appears that a lot of people went to see Jordan Peels’s new movie Us. It’s a movie that has a lot going on. It has so much happening that it’s very possible you didn’t catch many or everything worthy of note — especially if you only saw the movie once.
There are lots of easter eggs and references hidden inside Us, but rather than simply existing within the film so that the audience might catch them, many — if not all — of these little moments seem to be clearly chosen by Jordan Peele to help build on the larger themes of Us and foreshadow the story to come. Here are just a few my favorites.
Those Video Tapes
Us opens with a very odd sequence in which we watch a small child watching television in the 80s. Specifically, she’s watching a promotion for Hands Across America, the fundraising stunt that was designed to bring attention to homelessness and poverty. Why we’re seeing this is far from clear, but what’s even more interesting than this dated advertisement is the collection of VHS tapes surrounding the television.
Among the tapes on display are The Goonies, a movie about kids who go exploring through a collection of hidden tunnels under the ground, and C.H.U.D., a horror film about monsters living in the sewers. We also see the box for The Man with Two Brains. While the movie itself doesn’t necessarily connect to the concepts behind Us, the idea of two minds being connected is certainly key to understanding Us.
Us opens in the 1980s, more specifically in 1986 at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. It’s there we meet Adelaide for the first time. She’s a young child watching her father compete in carnival-style games where he’s able to successfully win her a prize, a Michael Jackson t-shirt specifically, one promoting Thriller, one of the biggest albums ever made.
Bringing up Thriller isn’t simply an easy reference to make it clear you’re watching a scene from the 1980s. Instead, we’re talking about a song that created one of the most memorable music videos of all-time. In the video, Jackson’s character shows that he has a dark side. He is both a man and a monster in the same way that the actors in Us play both roles. We also see a horde of zombie-like characters come up from underground, the same place they live in Us.
The Lost Boys
One of my personal favorite references in Us comes just after Adelaide gets her Michael Jackson T-shirt. The family is looking for something else to do at the boardwalk and Adelaide’s mother makes a throwaway reference that there is a movie shooting down the boardwalk, and maybe they should try to get in the movie as extras.
This isn’t just a random comment. The scene we’re watching is taking place in 1986, which would have been exactly when the ’80s classic The Lost Boys would have been filming in Santa Cruz, as it was released in 1987. The movie, which takes place in a fictionalized version of Santa Cruz, called Santa Carla, supposes there is a world full of vampires that exists alongside the world that we know. They’ve always been there, we just didn’t know they were there, just like the tethered.
For many there is no creepier horror movie than Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Us pays its own sort of tribute to the classic by borrowing and re-purposing one of its most iconic images, a pair of creepy twins. The Wilson family is friends with another family, the Tylers. Husband Josh is played by Tim Heidecker and wife Kitty by Elizabeth Moss. Like the Wilson family they have two children, but in this case they are twins Becca and Lindsey.
Everybody in Us has a twin of course, but we don’t know that at this point in the story. Of course, these twins, like everybody else in the film, have evil duplicates too. In fact, it’s them that commit the first killing of “normal” characters when they rush their opposites from either side with knives drawn. Clearly, twins are just evil.
The beach sequence when the Wilsons go to Santa Cruz owes more than a little to the classic Steven Spielberg film Jaws. If you needed that explained, there’s the fact that son Jason is actually wearing a Jaws t-shirt to the beach in the scene. In both cases we see a seemingly idyllic beach town fall into terror and violence.
However, beyond that, the end of the scene plays out in much the same way as a key sequence in Jaws. Adelaide is sitting on the beach and not really listening to Kitty when she realizes Jason has disappeared. She begins to look around for him and the tension builds to panic as Adelaide tries to cut out all the ancillary noise and find her son. Roy Schneider goes through a nearly identical sequence in Jaws. Although, things actually turn out OK for Jason, at least in that moment.
Alice in Wonderland
While most of the references in Us are front and center (even if their meanings aren’t always clear), this one is a bit less obvious, but the implications are certainly there.
Rabbits are an important symbol in Us. We look at them as the opening credits run, and we learn they were the primary food that the tethered had to eat. We also see daughter Zora sporting a t-shirt with a rabbit on it early in the film. When Adelaide finds herself back in the hall of mirrors and she first opens the door into the tunnels, the first thing she sees is a rabbit coming out, and then down the rabbit hole she goes, as in Alice in Wonderland. Once again, we’re dealing with the idea that an entirely new world we weren’t aware of has existed beneath us all this time.
This is certainly not an exhaustive list of the references in Us. It seems that Jordan Peele left little to chance and nearly everything that we see is there for a reason. What Easter eggs or references did you catch in Us that you thought were especially telling? Let us know in the comments below.