Mid Road “No,” the latest from writer-director Jordan Peele, fixes the camera on the exterior of a large, multi-story house on a sprawling lot. It is dark outside, and the picture we are witnessing is quite striking: blood and debris are falling from the sky and seeping into every crevice of the dwelling.
This moment from the filmmaker’s third big-screen outing is so strongly imprinted on the brain, days after watching it, as it encapsulates a host of visceral fears brought on by an eerie sense of desolation, occupation and apocalyptic violence. which seems almost…biblical?
While the end-of-days motif captured in the book of Revelation came to mind as I watched this brief scene of horror, it’s hard to tell what exactly lies beneath the surface of what we look in “No”.
“I don’t know why people can’t let me make a movie”, Peele told GQ magazine in a recent interview.
While it’s understandable that every time the director walks out the door with a new genre of horror or sci-fi, the now-canceled series “The Twilight Zone” included, the work is pushed, theorized, and scrutinized practically at dead.
But that’s the bar that Peele has set for himself. “Get Out,” his terrific debut, which won him an Academy Award for writing, included a story told simply and definitively but filled with compelling allegories that still piss fans off five years after its release.
In “Us,” Peele’s second film, which bristled with classic horror influences — from “The Shining” to the original “The Twilight Zone” — it became clearer with every minute that Peele was wrestling with a certain number of sometimes disconnected cultural and personal elements. reflective phenomena in his mind. Like the image from Hands Across America, for example.
As a result, “We” is an exciting, well-acted film that’s still fun to dissect but leaves you with a number of frustrating unanswered questions. As with many genre filmmakers before Peele, we’ve grown accustomed to trying to unlock what each of his films, and, by extension, the filmmaker, 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 a deeper, “Us”-like narrative, “Nope” is as much an experience as any of Peele’s endeavors, with an equally intriguing premise. OJ Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya), a taciturn heir to a Hollywood horsefighting business, walks with his father and namesake Otis (Keith David) on their ranch one day when the sky suddenly turns black and hits the father with a heavy object, killing him instantly.
Those opening minutes of the film are as shocking to watch as they are remarkable, made even more so by Kaluuya’s calm and tempered reaction, followed by residual grief. Then, just as quickly, we see something else flash across the screen: the face of the late Otis Sr. with his eye gouged out where the object made contact.
While that seems like enough to kick off a horror movie, at least propelling its characters to figure out the why and how of it all as audience curiosity mounts, Peele doesn’t stay in that space. Instead, it turns to the story of its protagonists, OJ and his sister Emerald (Keke Palmer), who struggle to maintain their legacy business in the age of on-screen computer-generated animals.
Peele seems to be anticipating uneducated opinions too much that these are black siblings living on a horse ranch, an image that contradicts much of what we’ve seen on Hollywood screens. But anyone who dug a little would tell you that black cowboys have a long heritage.
And the most curious would point to the very first film, “The horse in motionas evidence of a black man on a horse in Hollywood’s most burgeoning scene.
But “No” reminds us with Emerald’s solid introductory monologue, which proudly echoes this information as the siblings are on a potential job, adding that they are in fact descendants of this mysterious cowboy. Hollywood noir seen on screen more than a century ago. Spot the blank faces of the mostly white people in the room.
It’s a thrilling moment of pride, brought to life by an effervescent Palmer, who, as Emerald, is both an heiress and a typical Hollywood actress, always looking for her next trick. -pass. Or, as she explains to OJ, her core business. The horse fights are actually what she does when she’s not moving and/or shaking in Tinseltown. And don’t forget that.
(If you haven’t seen the movie yet, you could probably hear Keke “Keep a Job” Palmer say that.)
As interesting as it all is, including the banter between the two very different siblings, one can’t help but wonder about the old man whose face was mysteriously distorted by violent skies early in the film. Why are the main characters just… accepting this?
There may be a lot to be said for our willingness to accept what we are told, even with the best medical examiners, but anyone who has looked any horror movie wants to know why the weird thing happened. But Peele never really addresses that, nor does he make it a particular priority for his characters.
It has now become a recurring problem that started with “us”.
Instead, the filmmaker spends more time delving into the state of Emerald and OJ’s relationship – strained by an incident that’s only vaguely revealed in flashbacks – and expanding their world along the margins. from the rodeo to include the enigmatic Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun).
Admittedly, this latest twist from the whole Big, Bad Sky situation is fascinating — in part because Yeun completes a trio of compelling performances as a former child sitcom star turned theme park owner who has witnessed a massacre of chimpanzees of his entire cast. It strangely left him unscathed.
He reminds a fascinated Emerald and an impatient OJ of this story through bizarrely blank eyes, which seem to contain hundreds of stories that are all untold and a lifetime of unprocessed trauma.
While there’s a callback to that chimpanzee figure in the film’s other truly unsettling moment involving OJ in a barn, most of Ricky’s story falls through a drain. And after thinking about it a bit more, the barn moment plays like a welcome jump scare that doesn’t really connect to Ricky more than anything else.
So many intriguing questions all this raises, without adequate answers, Peele ultimately brings us back to the celestial horror that catalyzes the film. The dark cloud returns to the siblings’ ranch and crystallizes into what appears to be a UFO, witnessing a dismayed OJ. Is this/the one in there the same one who killed his/her father?
Yes, that question still occupies a lot of ground in the brain, even at this late act in the film.
And there is never an answer. All OJs, and soon Emerald and the public know that this thing is hovering around them, responsible for all the scary things that have happened and will happen to them (the sky is raining blood on the house, for example), and now they have to somehow respond appropriately.
But they are black. So, unlike their white counterparts, they might not be as enthusiastic about investigating the situation. Hence why the titular word is spoken repeatedly throughout the film – such as the two distinct moments when OJ and Emerald first set eyes on the flying saucer. “No”, it’s time to go home.
Comedy in horror rarely works, but Peele has always had a knack for infusing a deadpan precisely when needed, like Wes Craven did in “Scream.”
That’s when “No” really comes to life. Its already gorgeous cinematography is elevated and the spooky action finally kicks into high gear. Not because Emerald and OJ decide to try to fight the thing or become its victims (well, that second part is moot, as they’re trapped and occupied by an inexplicable force in their own land).
Instead, these unlucky but scrappy horse wrestlers choose to monetize the whole thing by filming it, with the help of a technical employee (Brandon Perea) who works at Best Buy and a renowned cinematographer. (Michael Wincott). At this point, “No” isn’t strictly a UFO movie anymore.
Peele tries, very carefully, to reflect our constant need to be viral superstars, even in the face of imminent danger. And the peril is surely abundant.
But while the image of two black siblings trying to preserve their ranch and save each other in the process is electrifying to watch in this horror/Western world that Peele has created, you can’t help but wonder. ask about all the questions that put holes in an otherwise rewarding experience. For example, why does looking at the thing lead to a person’s death?
And why did he choose Otis Sr.? (There are other, more indulgent questions, but anything father-related is still relevant.)
Peele has then lots of interesting insights drawn from, presumably, life experiences as well as things he reflects on and clearly wants us to reflect on in this world of heightened horror as well. And while these grand ideas, theories, and subversive images echo a long history of frightening and delicious wonder, they don’t always support the story.
So, going back to Peele’s earlier statement to GQ: It’s not that the public is asking him to do anything other than make a movie. It’s that these films are already doing something that goes beyond that. It’s up to him to connect those dots and make them as interesting and provocative as they already are.
“No,” even with so much to love about it, doesn’t quite do it.