“This dream you’re chasing, where you end up at the top of the mountain, all eyes on you… it’s the dream you never wake up from.”
Marketed as an extraterrestrial mystery, Jordan Peele’s third feature seems structured haphazardly as it morphs into a classic monster movie befitting the 70mm projection I saw. Its intention to obfuscate emerges from its opening with two separate and bloody prologues, followed by a long and meandering opening act that follows two sibling horse-wranglers — one laconically disengaged and the other energetically grating. The most enjoyable films of this type either trim the fat and dive straight into the meat like Tremors or focus almost entirely on the human relationships like Monsters. Nope lies somewhere between, though it tends toward the latter with Peele’s script exploring the capitalist tendencies that lead the siblings to an obsession with capturing footage of the UFO that they can exploit, whilst a nearby amusement park owner seeks to turn it into a crowd-pleasing spectacle. A particularly uncomfortable scene demonstrates the extent to which Yuen’s character is willing to market his own childhood trauma, a discarded subplot that is arguably more interesting. The film’s second half is more straightforward but also more successful, with familiar scenes as the characters learn the rules of interacting with the entity, and jury-rig solutions out in the California desert, its wide expanse of hills and skies captured dramatically by Hoyte Van Hoytema. With its overarching themes about humanity’s desire to control and exploit nature — and the risk in attempting to do so — Nope is not really covering new ground for the genre, but it is still an impressively-made throwback.
“They look exactly like us. They think like us. They know where we are. We need to move and keep moving. They won’t stop until they kill us… or we kill them.”
Jordan Peele’s surprising decision to delve into horror for his debut feature produced the brilliant Get Out but I was a little disappointed that he chose to stick to the genre for his follow up, in which a family is terrorised by their doppelganger “shadows”. He again proves himself an expert at crafting tension, opening with a creepily atmospheric prologue, and particularly in a memorable home invasion scene after the shadow family appear standing silently at the end of their driveway. From then on, over-reliance on horror cliché swiftly dampens the experience. Black Panther co-stars Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke are both excellent, the former in depicting Adelaid’s traumatic turmoil and the latter in providing much of the comic relief. Indeed, Us arguably communicates part of its message most effectively through moments of levity around the residual awkwardness of the newly affluent black middle class. Unfortunately Peele is more interested in his chosen imagery as a metaphor for distancing ourselves from those we perceive as “other” and wilfully leaving others behind in order to succeed, and the film unravels the wider its focus extends from its tight initial premise, with a mess of illogical steps, broken internal rules and an unsubtle “twist”.
“This is uncharted territory for them. You know, I don’t want to get chased off the lawn with a shotgun.”
Jordan Peele’s directorial debut wants to get under your skin in every sense. As is often the case with high concept horror, the less you know going in the better. Thematically, though, this is about the racial paranoia of being a minority in a white space — Chris reads into every cue, is made uncomfortable by the most casual of remarks, but is constantly second-guessing his own reading of the situation. It is an astute depiction of how exhausting such social interactions can be. The film’s opening scene is a statement of intent, with a black man walking through an affluent suburb, trying to avoid confrontation and clearly terrified of being shot. Like his comedy writing with Keegan-Michael Key, Peele is intent on confronting contemporary racial issues directly in order to provoke discomfort and conversation. In that, Get Out is a resounding success.