About half way “No,” writer-director Jordan Peele’s last words, the camera pans to the exterior of a large multi-story building perched on solid ground. It’s dark outside, and the scene we’re seeing is absolutely breathtaking, with blood and debris falling from the sky and seeping into every crevice of the dwelling.
This moment from the director’s third big-screen appearance is so strongly imprinted on the brain a few days after seeing it because it contains a set of inner fears evoked by an eerie sense of desolation, occupation and apocalyptic violence that feels almost…biblical?
While the end-of-day motif captured in the Book of Revelation comes to mind when viewing this brief horror scene, it’s hard to tell just what lies beneath the surface of what we see in No.
“I don’t know why people can’t just let me make a movie.” Peel told GQ magazine in a recent interview.
While it’s understandable that every time a director goes out of the gate with any new installment in the horror or sci-fi genre, including the now-cancelled The Twilight Zone series, the work is prodded, theorized, and scrutinized almost to death.
But that’s the bar Peel set for himself. Get Out, his stunning debut film that won him a writer’s Oscar, includes a story told simply and definitely, but filled with gripping allegories that fans are still fussing over five years after its release.
In Us, Peel’s sophomore film laced with influences from classic horror films from The Shining to the original The Twilight Zone, it became clearer by the minute that Peel was struggling with a host of sometimes unrelated cultural and self-contained relationships. reflective phenomena in his mind. Like, for example, the image “Hands across America.”
As a result, Us is a gripping, well-acted film that is still endlessly fun to analyze, but leaves you with a number of frustrating questions unanswered. Like many other genre film makers before Peel, we are used to trying to uncover what each of his films, and by extension the director himself, is trying to say. Even if we never get a concrete answer.
“No” is no exception. Closer to the slick visuals of “Get Out” but with more insightful “Us”-like storytelling, “No” is the same experience as all of Peel’s efforts, with the same intriguing premise. O.J. Heywood (Daniel Kaluuya), the silent heir to the Hollywood horse-arguing business, is walking with his father and namesake Otis (Keith David) at their ranch one day when the sky suddenly turns pitch black and throws a heavy object at his father. kill him instantly.
Those first few minutes of the movie are as shocking as they are wonderful, especially thanks to Kaluuy’s quiet and reserved reaction, followed by residual grief. Then, just as quickly, we see something else flashing on the screen: the face of the dead Otis Sr. with an eye gouged out where the object touched.
While that seems like enough to get a horror movie going, at least prompting its characters to figure out why and how it all happens as the audience’s own curiosity grows, Peel doesn’t stay in that space. Instead, he turns to the history of his main characters, O.J. and his sisters Emerald (Keke Palmer), who struggle to maintain their legacy business in the era of on-screen computer animals.
Peel seems to be overly anticipatory of the uneducated opinions associated with the fact that they are black siblings living on a horse ranch, an image that belies much of what we’ve seen on Hollywood screens. But anyone with a little digging will tell you that black cowboys have a long legacy.
And the most curious would point to the first film in history, ”Horse in motionas evidence of a black man on a horse in Hollywood’s most nascent scene.
But “No” reminds us of that with Emerald’s compelling opening monologue, which proudly paraphrases this information as the siblings are in their supposed jobs, adding that they are actually descendants of that enigmatic black Hollywood cowboy seen onscreen for over a century. back. Note the empty faces of most of the white people in the room.
It’s a thrilling moment of pride reborn to new life by the effervescent Palmer, who, like Emerald, is both an heiress and a quintessential Hollywood mover and shaker, always on the lookout for her next fuss. Or, as she explains to OJ, her main occupation. Horse fighting is what she does when she’s not moving and/or shaking in Tinseltown. And don’t forget about it.
(If you haven’t seen the movie yet, you’ve probably still heard Keke’s “Stay at Work” Palmer saying this.)
As interesting as it all is, including the jokes between two very different siblings, you can’t help but wonder about the old man whose face was mysteriously deformed by the cruel sky at the beginning of the movie. Why do the main characters just…accept it?
There may be a lot to be said for our willingness to accept what we are told, even with the help of the very best forensics, but anyone who has watched Any the horror movie wants to know why something strange happened. But Peel never really answers that question, and doesn’t make it a priority for his characters to ask that question.
Now it has become a recurring problem that started with “us”.
Instead, the director spends more time examining the state of Emerald and O.J.’s relationship. — tense over an incident that is only dimly revealed in a flashback — and expands their world on the rodeo fields, including the enigmatic Ricky “Yupich” Park (Stephen Yeun). .
Admittedly, this latest departure from the whole Big Bad Sky situation is mesmerizing — in part because Yoon completes a trio of mesmerizing performances as a former children’s sitcom star turned theme park owner who witnessed a chimpanzee massacre. his entire cast. Oddly enough, he remained unharmed.
He recalls the story to the enchanted Emerald and the eager OJ through bizarrely empty eyes that seem to hold hundreds of untold stories and a lifetime of untold trauma.
While the other really unnerving moment of the film involving OJ in the barn makes reference to this chimpanzee figure, much of Ricky’s story falls through. And after thinking about it some more, the barn moment plays like a long-awaited jump scare that doesn’t really involve Ricky more than anything else.
As many intriguing questions as it all spurs on, with no adequate answers, Peel eventually brings us back to the heavenly horror that catalyzes the film. The dark cloud returns to the siblings’ ranch and crystallizes into what appears to be a UFO, witnessed by a stunned OJ. Whoever it was, is it the same one who killed their father?
Yes, this question still occupies a lot of space in the brain even at this late stage of the movie.
And there was never an answer. All OJ, and soon Emerald and the audience, know that this thing is hovering around them, responsible for all the terrible things that have happened to them and will continue to happen (for example, bloody rain from the sky on the house), and now they need to somehow respond appropriately.
But these are blacks. So, unlike their white counterparts, they may not be so zealous as to investigate the situation. That’s why the title word is used repeatedly throughout the movie – like two different times when OJ and Emerald first saw the flying saucer. “No, it’s time to go back to the house.”
Horror comedy rarely works, but Peel has always been able to inspire deadpan just when it’s needed, as Wes Craven did in Scream.
That’s when “No” really comes to life. His already great cinematography rises, and the chilling action finally rises to the top notch. Not because Emerald and O.J. decide to try to fight this creature or fall prey to it (well, the second part is debatable as they are trapped and occupied by an unexplained force in their own land).
Rather, these unlucky but promiscuous grooms choose to monetize it all by filming it on camera with the help of a tech assistant (Brandon Perea) who works as a replacement for Best Buy and a well-known cinematographer. (Michael Wincott). At this point, No is no longer strictly a UFO movie.
Peele is very discreet in trying to reflect our ongoing need to be viral superstars, even in the face of imminent danger. And there are certainly many dangers.
But while the image of two black siblings trying to save their ranch and save each other in the process is electrifying to watch in this horrific/western world created by Peel, you can’t help but wonder about all the questions that poke holes. in an otherwise rewarding experience. For example, why does looking at this thing lead to the death of a person?
And why did he choose Otis Sr.? (There are other, more spoiler questions, but everything related to the father is still haunting.)
Purified So a lot of interesting ideas, presumably drawn from life experience, as well as things that he thinks about, and that he clearly wants us to think about in this enhanced horror world too. And while these big ideas, theories, and subversive images reflect a long history of eerie and delightful wonders, they don’t always support the story.
So, back to Peel’s earlier statement to GQ, it’s not that audiences are demanding anything from him other than making a movie. The thing is, these films are already doing something outstanding. He must connect these dots and make them as worthwhile and provocative as they already are.
“No,” even though there’s so much love in it, it’s not entirely true.