Jordan Peele’s name is now synonymous with the horror genre, thanks to his sleeper hit Get Out in 2017, and now his sophomore effort, Us, a chilling horror that leans towards psychological than gory. Peele’s strength lies in his uncanny ability to weave in moral and ethic issues into his warped world of horror that grips us. Get Out was a prime example, and now Us as well.
A family staycation turns awry when a family of doppelgangers show up, bent on killing the family of four. Except that these creepy lookalikes come from a sinister place, not paranormal or out of this world, but quite the opposite. And it’s in knowing the truth of the doppelgangers’ existence that makes us even more horrified.
Hands Across America
This is perhaps the most obvious. The film’s opening shows a commercial for the Hands Across America campaign. It was launched in the mid-80s, in an effort to raise USD50 million to combat hunger and homelessness in the US. the campaign aimed to get around 6 million people in the country to hold hands to form a human chain that stretches from New York to California, symbolising togetherness and unity. The actual campaign attracted millions of participants but only raised USD15 million, far from the actual goal.
In the movie, the various doppelgangers linked up towards the end of the movie, echoing the human chain in the Hands Across America campaign. Peele chose to include this because, during the period of the campaign, he was an impressionable youngster affected by both horror movies and the Challenger disaster. And he wanted to conjure the feeling of both bliss and darkness at the same time. You could say this easter egg is more for himself.
Did you notice multiple references of Corey Feldman, a popular child actor in the 80s? There were in all, 3 references to Feldman, who starred in The Goonies and The Lost Boys. Peele shared, “Feldman was a very important figure for our generation. And [actor Corey] Haim, too. These guys are the epitome of cool. They were kids who were as cool as it got. And stories of great duality, sagas of the highest highs and the lowest lows and great tragedies.”
You might have noticed that some of Us’s promotional posters just feature a pair of golden scissors and that promoted debates on why. The film focuses very much on duality and the inclusion of scissors is significant for Peele, not because they make an easy weapon in a horror movie, but something far more symbolic. Peele shared, “There’s a duality to scissors—a whole made up of two parts, but also they lie in this territory between the mundane and the absolutely terrifying.”
When Lupita Nyong'o’s character, Adelaide was young, she went to a carnival with her parents and gets a Thriller T-shirt. Michael Jackson’s famous song features a music video where he transformed into a zombie and werewolf. Peele picked this song because of the deeper meaning behind the video’s representation, that people are hiding ugly versions of themselves inside. If you noticed, the doppelgangers all wear one white glove on their hands, a tribute to Jackson’s 80s style.
T-Shirts that Speak
This may be subtle or in your face, depending on how well you pay attention. Both Adelaide’s kids are wearing T-shirts with prints laden with meaning. Her son, Jason, wears a Jaws shirt. Jaws is, of course, Steven Spielberg’s movie, about a happy family terrorised by a monster in the water, which sort of parallels Us’ theme. Her daughter, Zora wears a shirt with a bunny on it. Bunnies are in abundance in the movie, and we later learned that they were the food source for the Doppelgangers.
This reference adds some humour into the otherwise tense movie. As Adelaide and her husband discuss how to manage their home invasion situation, Gabe (her husband) seeks inspiration from Home Alone, much to Adelaide’s horror. And the biggest horror of all is that none of their kids has a clue what Home Alone is!
During the opening scene, when the Hands Across America commercial was playing, did you notice the VHS tapes beside the TV? One of the videos is the horror sci-fi movie C.H.U.D., the 1984 horror movie about cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers. If you think about it, the movie’s theme is kind of echoed in Us.
The Man With Two Brains
Also in the VHS stack is a Steve Martin comedy called The Man With Two Brains. In the 1983 movie, Martin’s character is a neurosurgeon who invented a brain surgery that didn’t quite turn out to be what he envisioned, causing him to be “two-minded”. Picking this movie is not just because it was in the early 80s, but that the central characters in Us, who share the same looks but behaves differently bears some resemblance to the movie.
Do you remember the homeless man who was holding up a sign that said: “Therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them”? Turns out that is a bible verse from Jeremiah 11:11. Anything that Peele does has a meaning, and in this case, he is alluding to the evil that is about to be unleashed onto the ground above, having been abandoned for so long. And speaking of 11:11...
The Appearance of 11:11
These numbers appear numerous times in the movie, Jason’s digital clock, for one. The presence of these four numbers could mean a handful of things, like four members of the family, doubles, duplicate… there could be a million possibilities.
Did you find more Easter eggs?