Jordan Peele Took The Quentin Tarantino Approach To Horror Easter Eggs In Us

A director needs a certain finesse when paying subtle homage to other films that may have influenced the movie they're making. References and easter eggs can add an extra layer of depth to a story, but if it isn't handled right, it can wind up being a distraction that takes the viewer out of the moment. Jordan Peele and Quentin Tarantino are two modern filmmakers who do it right, using film history to reveal personal connections that have meaning for them and to give credit to the movies that inspired them. Peele, in particular, peppers in references to horror films in an incredibly nerdy, fun way that reveals just how much of a genre fan he really is. 

The very beginning of Peele's second film "Us" features a few strategically placed VHS tapes that are undoubtedly some of the director's favorite films. But they're also there for a reason. "The Goonies" hints at an adventure that will take Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong'o) underground at some point in "Us" and the subterranean horror gem "C.H.U.D." literally stands for Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers. Peele is already trying to tell the audience something. Sight and Sound referenced a recent interview with the New York Times where Peele called these clues "little winks" that gently guide the audience. 

The walking, talking encyclopedia of film, Quentin Tarantino (QT for short), came up as well when Peele spoke about his favorite filmmakers and how they give recognition to the films that came before them. 

Paying respect to the past and the audience

Peele understood that the myriad of references in "Us" should never make the audience feel like they're out of the loop or aren't as clever as the person behind the camera. It's not about how much you know, it's how that knowledge informs the audience. Shout-outs to other movies should be fun, and Peele looks at Tarantino as another director that understands that. From Sight and Sound:

"All my favorite directors are a combination of their influences. The guy who really does homage in a more fun way than anyone else is Tarantino. And that's the thing to me: you're not making in-jokes, but you're being a little bit vulnerable, and open with your audience as to how you got here."

In fairness, it seems like Peele has discovered his love for movies in the same way most people have by being a fan first and an aficionado second. Tarantino, for all of his genuine passion, is the opposite of that in many ways. A large part of his movie knowledge comes from working as a video store clerk at Video Archives where he and Roger Avary discussed and dissected all genres of film in an almost scholarly way. QT has become the master of referential homage to cinema and, as a result, he's turned so many people on to new films, including Peele. So it's no wonder that QT's filmography has caused a ripple effect that has probably influenced Peele to make references of his own to films that shaped him personally. Peele is now a favorite director of mine and so many others, and his combination of influences informs his unique point-of-view that audiences have clearly connected with in a big way. 

The lasting influence of both filmmakers

The massive popularity of Peele and Tarantino means that they have a lot of influence on the moviegoing public. If Peele delivers a few references to underseen genre fare like "C.H.U.D." or "Dead Again," a lot of people may go and seek those films out. Tarantino has been accused multiple times of blatantly ripping off storylines and visual cues from other films, when really he's offering up more of a suggested curriculum in what could be called the Tarantino School of Film. "Reservoir Dogs" may have a lot in common plot-wise with Ringo Lam's Hong Kong crime-thriller "City on Fire," for example, but QT is borrowing from that film to simply say he's seen this movie and you probably should, too. 

When Tarantino references other films it feels educational, whereas Jordan Peele gives props to the movies that helped define him as a movie lover. Peele's easter eggs feel more personal as a result and that is why we gravitate to them. Every T-shirt a character wears and every item in the background of Peele's films create a richer world that we want to revisit again and again. Peele uses horror easter eggs and the genre itself to make you think about society and culture from a new perspective. His films are entertaining and thought-provoking which is why we can't stop talking about them. Even though his latest film "Nope" is basically an ingenious remake of "Jaws," it's not just an adventure movie, it's an acknowledgment and love letter to the contribution of black artists in Hollywood. "I like to provoke," says Peele. "I want to say the thing that is left unsaid."