Following the recent release of his widely acclaimed UFO thriller “No,” Jordan has been drinking three out of three in his quest to create a refreshingly unique vision of horror cinema. Just when the genre was in decline with familiar cliches and cheap screamers, Peel, along with other directors such as Ari Astaire, Robert Eggers and Ana Lily Amirpour, came to enliven horror with original stories, three-dimensional characters and a creepy atmosphere. Nope has all three of them in spades, with a cute pair of siblings, a terrifying view of alien life, and a disturbing satire on their own audience’s addiction to spectacles. But Peel has not yet surpassed the greatness of his original masterpiece “Away”.
The timely narrative of race relations “Away” has become a cultural attraction. It caused frank discussions around the world, collected a whopping $255.4 million with a modest budget of $4.5 million and received four Oscar nominations for Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor and best Original screenplay. Peel won the last prize, which would be an impressive achievement for any debut film, but especially when this debut film belongs to the horror genre, which is often neglected. Five years later, the messages raised by Get Out remain the same part of the conversation.
Peel’s subsequent directorial work was as bold and inventive as his debut feature film, touching on current topics through the prism of horror with creepy visuals, tense twists and approaching monsters. But they lack the intangible quality that made Get Out an undisputed masterpiece. Us and Nope are disparate collections of various interesting ideas, each of which is implemented very well, but Get Out was one single idea implemented perfectly.
We start with an intriguing abstract concept—that the monster we should fear the most is ourselves—but this abstract concept doesn’t quite translate into a concrete narrative. The tethered ones are vaguely explained as the result of a failed cloning experiment conducted by the American government, but this confusing mythology does not quite correspond to reality. The first half of the film is a thriller about a home invasion in the style of “Fun Games”, and the second half turns into a kind of zombie film about a group of survivors facing the apocalypse, and the place of the undead is occupied by clones dressed in overalls. The last twist reveals the dichotomy of heroes and villains, but this twist barely stands up to criticism and does not add anything new on repeat views.
Nope is aesthetically stunning, thematically rich and, above all, delightfully interesting. But it’s an even more eclectic mix of ideas than Us. He explores the forgotten identity of the black jockey from “Horses in Motion” Edward Maybridge, who, according to Em, was “the very first stuntman, animal trainer and movie star in one person.” He also explores the trauma experienced by the former child actor after he saw his fellow cast members and the audience in a live studio were brutally beaten and maimed by his chimpanzee film partner during the recording of the cheesy 90s sitcom “House of Gordy.”
On top of that, Nope also explores the perfect metaphor for the debate between film and digit. The old-fashioned methods of filmmaking are becoming increasingly outdated, but Knope argues that they cannot be replaced. In an early scene, the Heywood’s live horse, ironically named Lucky, is replaced by a replacement covered in computer graphics markers when she is frightened by her mirror image. But classic photography techniques will come in handy when the Heywoods are determined to capture a flying saucer terrorizing their ranch. Since digital images can be easily manipulated, they decided to fix the indisputable proof of the existence of UFOs on an unchangeable celluloid.
These are all exciting ideas, and the film does an amazing job of exploring them, but there’s nothing that ties them together. The horror of a flying saucer hovering over the Haywood Ranch and the horror of a chimpanzee actor wreaking bloody havoc on the set of a silly 90s sitcom seem to be the prerequisites of two completely different horror films. They are very loosely connected by the broad theme of the spectacle.
Instead of struggling with a mess of disparate concepts, “Away” takes one unique concept—”Stepford Wives” meets “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”—and brings it to life with the utmost precision. From the moment Chris was invited to the all-white gated complex of his white girlfriend’s white parents, to the moment Chris realized his body had been auctioned off and they wouldn’t let him leave, Peel maintains a tense sense of suspense, constantly assuming something fishy is going on without giving him away. Everything in the film, from Armitage’s microaggression to the disturbing party and the quiet horror of the “Sunken Place,” serves as a purposeful exploration of the fear of racism.