How "Us" is basically "Thriller" (But Not Really)

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By Assia Angelini

Last week Jordan Peele’s latest horror movie, “Us,” debuted at the box office, breaking records and quickly obtaining great acclaim. Highly anticipated after the success of “Get Out,” “Us” stars Lupita Nyong’o and follows the story of a black family whose vacation to their summer home turns into a fight for survival when their doppelgangers show up on their driveway.

Peele’s take on horror is unique when compared to the mainstream horror films that have been coming out. “Us” is more psychological thriller than straight-up horror, and my fear during the movie was rooted mainly in concern for the characters. There were no jump scares and overt gore was often implied rather than shown. What stuck with me most about “Us” was probably Lupita’s character, Adelaide’s battle against herself and how tragic it was.

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In “Us,” the concept of mirrored images and doppelgangers is strong and played through straight to the core of this movie. If one watches carefully, they can notice the repeated use of the number 11, how the Tethered’s actions still subtly mirror the family’s, even as they try to kill them, and how the entire narrative is mirrored in on itself. After multiple viewings in theaters, there may even be the chance of the film showings being slightly different from each other.

As I watched “Us” in theatres I found myself wanting to pause and rewind just to more closely examine all the little details this movie offers. It’s definitely the sort of movie that takes multiple viewings if one wants to glean everything they can from the story. “Us” is masterfully made, from the way it was shot, to the soundtrack choices, to Lupita’s amazing acting.

Even though there are certainly deeper allegories and meaningful details to be found in Us, one thing that amused me was how one could argue the influence of Michael Jackson's “Thriller.” Which is exactly what I'm about to do. Just as an explicit warning, there will be spoilers.

Adelaide and her son Jason are shown to have a connection in the film. While she loves both her children, she pays special attention to Jason. When her husband, Gabe, tries to convince her to go to the beach, he mentions Jason. When at the beach, it's Jason who walks off momentarily, just like Adelaide did when she was younger. Jason is supposed to remind us, the viewer, of a younger Adelaide.

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Another subtle way to illustrate this connection is through costume design. When they arrive at their summer home, Jason immediately dons a werewolf mask that he wears on and off for the rest of the movie. He tends to have it on when in confrontation with his Tethered.

In one of our first scenes with Young Adelaide, we see her father winning her a prize from a booth game at the Santa Cruz boardwalk. The prize is a t-shirt featuring Michael Jackson's “Thriller,” a t-shirt that young Adelaide wears for the rest of the Santa Cruz flashbacks. It's the shirt she's wearing when she first encounters her Tethered.

In “Thriller,” Michael Jackson turned into a werewolf in the first three minutes of the music video. In this way, Jason's wearing the werewolf mask could act as a visual nod to young Adelaide's Thriller shirt.

Another strong visual reference would be in the Tethereds’ uniforms. Tethered Adelaide has been orchestrating the Tethered up risingfor years and based the event heavily off of details from when she was taken. After killing their doubles the Tethered stand in a line holding hands, just like the charity demonstration Hands Across America, which was the shirt Adelaide was wearing underneath her Thriller shirt.

The Tethered are all dressed in a bright red jumpsuit, sporting a singular leather glove on their hand. While this striking image could mean a variety of things, it is true that in Thriller, Michael Jackson, did wear his signature deep red jacket of the same shade. It is also true that another well-known fashion statement of Jackson's was his tendency to wear a singular white glove.

This could all be coincidence, but Tethered Adelaide is shown to have paid special attention to detail in regards to the night she was taken and Red took her place.

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Speaking of young Adelaide's abduction, while “Thriller” doesn't pay attention to narrative mirroring the same way “Us” does, it does have a bookend that could be read as vaguely similar. In “Thriller,” the music video opens with Jackson walking through the woods with his new girlfriend after their car has run out of gas. Just before he can reveal his deadly secret of lycanthropy, Jackson turns into a werewolf. As he chases his girlfriend through the woods, it's revealed this is just a movie being viewed by Jackson and his girlfriend. The threat of a werewolf seems passive until the very end of the video where Jackson looks back at the camera and reveals the same yellow eyes as the werewolf.

When young Adelaide encounters her Tethered for the first time, what exactly happens is left vague. It's easy for the audience to believe that she simply got spooked and ran away. Throughout the movie, however, we are given clues that may not be what really happened. We follow Adelaide, rooting for her success and hoping for her safety until the very end when it's revealed that the threat young Adelaide faced was very real after all. After the ordeal when Adelaide smiles at her son, he pulls his werewolf mask down. By this time the audience knows that the Adelaide we've been following has been one of the Tethered all along.

“Us” is a film that deserves to be analyzed over and over again. Are the ties between Us and Thriller strong? Could an argument be made for Thriller's influence on Us? Is this argument a strong one? If you feel one way or the other feel free to comment in the comment section below.

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