I’m on a hunt for the scariest movies of all time! I’ll be looking at films of any era, from any country, and then reviewing them based solely on how terrifying they are.
If you have a suggestion for a horror movie, please let me know on Twitter.
Please be advised, spoilers may lie ahead!!
Director: Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer
I hadn’t intended to kick off this series of articles so soon, much less with a new Jordan Peele film, but I happened to catch it at the cinema last week and figured I could claim the ticket as a business write off.
That’s how tax
evasion works, right?
Peele’s latest offering, Nope, is a sci fi horror that pits a pair of siblings on a ranch against a monstrous entity that attacks from above. In keeping with his established style, Peele puts a modern spin on the narrative, making self-preservation secondary to their attempts at procuring photographic evidence of alien existence.
I’ve already established a few times by now, that the point of these articles is to find the scariest horror movie, not necessarily the very best. And already on the first attempt, I find myself at something of an impasse, because disentangling the two for a movie I quite enjoyed is a shade more daunting than I had anticipated.
In any event, it’s important to frame the atmosphere of this piece. In only his third feature film, Peele is approaching auteur territory, heavily emphasising the importance of character building in order to flesh out his world.
These characters (and subsequently, the performances therein) are likely Nope’s strongest quality. You care about the proceedings, because it’s being experienced by interesting, likeable people. It’s a far cry from the slashers of yesteryear, where the victims were merely warm props for the real stars of the show to mow down.
Peele also excels in building suspense with expertly applied sound design. His use of tense silences are drawn out to the point where you can be lulled into a false sense of security, only for him to finally hit you with the scare.
It never gets old or predictable, because he’s equally as likely to pivot in another direction, following these silences with plot development instead. Nothing ever feels stray or offbeat, it’s meticulous craftsmanship that helps to set the stage for a final showdown between the protagonists and the beast that lurks among the clouds.
With all that being said, I found this film to be more exciting than scary. It is occasionally gruesome — particularly in a compelling B-story about a supporting character’s grisly encounter with a rampaging chimpanzee when he was a child — but at no point did I feel troubled or anxious.
Much like his back catalogue of Get Out and Us, Peele has given us a story that warrants further discussion and reflection. We seek to unpack the meaning behind its choices, as opposed to lying awake in breathless anticipation that its central foe may claim our lives next.
To that end, in moments of apprehension, you ponder whether you’re going to get a laugh as opposed to a fright. That isn’t a bad thing, of course, and it’s a stylistic choice that makes things proceed at a snappier clip than its sur-two hour runtime would suggest.
(I legit thought I could apply ‘sur’ as a suitable antonym to ‘sub’ just then. I don’t think it’ll catch on, but I may try to speak it into existence down the line. Be ready for that.)
What this all goes to say, is, was I scared to see the enormous, ravenous villain descend from the heavens to inhale another hapless meal? Not so much, no.
In actuality, the suggestion of the creature proved more effective than the on-screen application. A flash of something whizzing by here, a deluge of crimson rain there, coating the ranch house with the blood of its previous haul. That’s all quite unnerving, and from a pure horror standpoint, I almost wonder if the early reveal of our foe stripped it of its overwhelming dread.
We got a ‘wow’ moment, as opposed to an ‘ahh’ one.
Again, it made for an interesting viewing experience, and yet, pushed it firmly in the camp of a sci fi action film, eschewing a few horror conventions as a result. To my viewing eye, it was by far the least frightening of Peele’s trilogy of terror, and ranks quite low for the purpose of this series of articles.
I simply must calls it how I sees it, and award a single trembling paw to Nope. It comes as highly recommended watching for a good time, but barely registers for pure fright factor.
Perhaps with the aforementioned shuffling of its reveal, it could have built up even more impact, though this likely would have been at the expense of the narrative itself.
For what it was and what it was trying to achieve, it did a fine job. For spooking this enterprising horror aficionado? Nope.